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Jimmys Say The Darndest Things

So Jimmy Rollins says [1] the Phillies are the team to beat in the National League East. As he should. He’s on the Phillies. He should exude confidence in February. If Fred Wilpon took grief three years ago for setting “meaningful games in September” as a goal (a reasonable one, I thought, coming off a most dreadful 95-loss campaign), then we should applaud Rollins for aiming high on behalf of a team that looked good late and probably improved over the winter.

Then we should boo his loudmouth ass every time he shows his face, starting with the Home Opener (or boo his loudmouth face every time he shows his ass — your choice). You talk like that in the earshot of Mets and Mets fans, expect feedback, hopefully the kind that comes bundled with a Reyes hit, a Reyes steal, a Lo Duca shot through the middle, a Beltran blast and so forth.

That’s for April 9. Don’t worry too much about what Jimmy Rollins says now. We don’t know if he’s delusional or on the money yet. Until we do, keep in mind that players named Jimmy have been known to offer some unorthodox utterances. Even Mets named Jimmy.

Jimmy Piersall, for example. He’s best remembered in his 1963 Met incarnation [2] for circling the bases backwards when he whacked his hundredth career homer — not third-to-first backwards, but back-to-the-bases backwards. Whatever it was, it was enough to get him released almost immediately. As Ol’ Case put it, there was only room enough for one clown on his Mets, and it wasn’t gonna be Jimmy Piersall.

More than a decade after Piersall was hung out and several years after he hung ’em up, Jimmy resurfaced as a goodwill ambassador of sorts for the Texas Rangers. To understand what sorts, it’s instructive to read one of the flat-out funniest baseball books that’s ever been written, Seasons In Hell [3] by Mike Shropshire, a Fort Worth beat writer like they don’t make anymore who covered a franchise that its hard to believe ever made it at all.

Shropshire’s Rangers are the Whitey Herzog/Billy Martin 1973-75 model, or as it says on the cover, “The Worst Baseball Team in History.” Technically they were only godawful his first year on the beat, but it’s best not to get caught up in numbers here because mere American League West standings don’t do those Texans justice. I first read Seasons upon its publication in 1996 and laughed hysterically. Then I loaned it to I don’t remember who and never got it back. I found it rereleased last year, scooped it up and recently began reading and laughing all over again. I was on a train the other day when I read something involving Piersall that made me chortle hard enough to drown out a dozen cell phone conversations.

The author describes an offseason event at old Arlington Stadium to welcome a new sponsor, Schlitz, to the Ranger family. The party was up to local standards, Shropshire writes, the refreshments “the same as what you’d find in the bedroom of the average Texan — a washtub full of ice and beer cans and a bowl of potato chips.” On hand were several advertising executives attached to Schlitz. With no real baseball to discuss, Shropshire tried to make small talk with one of the account guys, noting that it struck him odd that in all those Schlitz ads that ran in the ’70s there were nothing but men keeping company with other men.

They’re all filmed on big sailboats and you see a bunch of guys rigging the sails and diving off the deck and drinking Schlitz and having a great time and all, but you never see any women on the boat…and you don’t see any women after the boat is parked on the beach and the guys are having a clambake and they’re singing and throwing Frisbees and still drinking all that Schlitz. So I was watching some of those commercials on a football game and got to wondering if maybe Schlitz is going after the gay market with these TV commercials.

Shropshire swears he was just trying to make a little friendly chat, maybe inject a bit of levity “into what was shaping up as a colorless gathering…it never occurred to me to notice that, like the Schlitz sailboat, there weren’t any women at the press party.” But this was Texas in 1974 and the account executive wasn’t too pleased at what he inferred from the writer’s remarks. Things grew tense.

Into the breach stepped a late-arriving Piersall, Ranger ambassador of goodwill. Shropshire was relieved to have a distraction. The account exec did a 180 and greeted Jimmy like a long-lost relative.

“Jimmy! Have a Schlitz!”

What he wasn’t aware of was Piersall was strictly on the wagon, so much so that when the inspiration for Fear Strikes Out [4] responded, “I don’t drink that goddamn goat piss,” it was nothing personal.

Seeing as how “the poor ad guy didn’t know that,” it’s no wonder “his mouth fell open.” It certainly took the wind out of the sails of the immediate anger the Schlitz representative felt toward the baseball writer, and for that, Shropshire was extremely grateful.

I felt like rushing over to Jimmy Piersall and giving him a warm embrace, then decided against that, lest I wind up on a Schlitz commercial.