Baseball’s outspoken outfielder-turned-broadcaster Jimmy Piersall was anything but dull.
If diamond immortal Ted Williams called him the best center fielder he ever saw, then contemplate how smoothly and proficiently Piersall patrolled that field back in the day.
With the 87-year-old Piersall’s recent passing and all the stories being rehashed, here’s another one or two.
Maybe the best or most cited line on Jimmy was that he was crazy.
“And I have the papers to prove it,” Piersall would add with his swallowed-the-canary grin.
No offense to White Sox fans, but once slugger Dick Allen left the premises at 35th and Shields after 1974, the franchise’s No. 1 attraction became the talent in the TV booth – the kings of verbosity, Harry Caray and Piersall.
Viewer reaction over the bad jokes, sophomoric ad-libs, blatant second-guessing, and anti-P.C. insults many times would light up the switchboard at sleepy Chicago UHF outlet WSNS-TV in the late 1970s. To me personally, it was an addiction. You just couldn’t miss a Sox TV game then. I mean, what would wild-and-crazy Harry and/or Jimmy say next?
Imagine my surprise late in August 1984 when I discovered that Piersall would work as the sideline reporter for Northern Illinois’ season-opener against West Texas State and serve as co-host on the weekly “NIU Football Show with Lee Corso.”
You see, NIU-WTSU would mark my debut as head SID. Oh boy.
Coming off the 10-2 Cal Bowl season in 1983 and with the NCAA deregulating TV college football, NIU athletics director Bob Brigham jumped into the Chicago market full throttle, signing a contract with Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate. Say what you want, but the 30-minute Corso show was a major coup – part of a WLS Sunday morning tripleheader lineup that included the Mike White (Illinois) and Dennis Green (Northwestern) shows. That's big-time company.
Also remember that the Friday prior to the game was my NIU Athletics Hall of Fame predecessor and mentor Bud Nangle’s last day at NIU before retirement. Bud had set up the production meeting at The Fargo in Sycamore with the crew and talent (the late Tim Weigel on play-by-play, Mike Adamle on color, and Piersall) that evening.
Never in my 22 years as boss was there a better TV production meeting. The work got done but with Weigel – always the entertainer – Adamle, Piersall and Nangle all cutting up, it was a memorable, unforgettable experience. Sorry that I cannot repeat many of the jokes or comments. After all, this is a family newspaper.
The game? The Huskies outlasted WTSU, 40-33, on a 69-yard fourth-quarter TD pass play from Darryl Taylor to Carl Aikens and a two-point PAT pass. The Corso TV show? I can only remember two aspects – the ad-libs which made it the most atypical coach’s show in the country and the closing of the first one.
Taped on Saturday nights (and sometimes into early Sunday morning) in Rockford, Corso and Piersall would cut up on-air during chalk talks and NIU highlights. Diagramming a play, Corso would accidentally break the chalk on the board. “Low budget show,” Piersall cracked. In the same “Play of the Game” sequence, Piersall asked: “That play really work, coach?”
The always well-dressed Corso was a Gucci gentleman and Piersall criticized his partner’s wardrobe most on that first show.
“Come back and watch the show next week,” Corso concluded.
“Yeah,” Piersall added, looking directly into the camera with a straight face, “we’re stars!”
Stuff like this didn’t happen on Mike White’s show.