Thursday, April 5, 2007

Annals of Baseball Weirdness

Perhaps the most unusual player in the history of the game, James Barron Grierson played his entire career in the minor leagues for the Yoknapatawpha County Furies, with the exception of a small handful of games during a brief call up to the Cardinals in the late fifties. As a result of a childhood trauma, Grierson suffered from multiple personality disorder, however, he was unusual even among people afflicted with that rare ailment, in that both of his personalities were baseball players. Jimmy was a left-handed batting outfielder, and J. Barron was a sinker-ball throwing right-handed relief pitcher. Although the managerial complexities that Greirson’s condition caused were numerous, the Furies were perpetually short staffed, and Greirson’s versatility was extremely useful and led them to accommodate him. And, while bringing a player on in a double switch for himself is not technically allowed by the rule book, the league in which the Furies played was a small one and not known for exacting standards in regards to regulations.

It was the short-stafedness of the Yoknapatawpha County Furies that led them to experiment with signing the Griersons, but the initial expectation was that he would be physically unable to perform at both positions, at least not on a regular basis. However, as his career progressed teammates, managers and fans were truly shocked at how completely unrelated the performance of the “two” players was. In fact, Grierson initially attracted the attention of the Cardinals when Jimmy went on a twenty-game hitting streak, while J. Barron was on the DL with a bad elbow. The Cardinal scouts were put-off when J. Barron returned and they began to grasp the complexities of the player, but, having a need in the outfield that they thought he could fill, they got Jimmy to agree to a short-term deal, and bribed the management of the Furies to fire J. Barron.

It was only in St Louis that the dual nature of Grierson’s life took a toll on his game: unemployed, J. Barron fell into a depressive alcoholic cycle, and this meant that Jimmy frequently ended up playing drunk, or extremely hung over. The final straw came after a series of opposing managers complained about the Cardinal outfielder who would approach them smelling of whisky and very earnestly ask if they had any openings in their bullpen. After a few weeks, in which he hit just over .200, Grieirson was released and returned to Yoknapatawpha County.

After some initial wrangling and hurt feelings, the Furies signed both Griersons a second time, and the two of them recorded several more decent years playing in Yoknapatawpha County, where his uniqueness had lead him to be beloved by the fans. Perhaps the high point of his career came during a game in 1961 in which Jimmy went three for four with a home run, and J. Barron pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two strike outs.

Grierson retired in 1964 and became the radio voice of the Furies for many years; J. Barron did the play-by-play and Jimmy provided the color.


Wystan Bottomly said...

Many thanks for this reminiscence. As a teenager I had the privilege of knowing James Barron Grierson and J. Barron, and spent many happy afternoons following the progress of the Furies.

It is not now generally known that such a personality 'disorder' was fairly common in the region; Yoknapatawpha is after all Chickshavian for 'split land'.

However, most of the similarly endowed youngsters spent their time chopping cotton or picking up pecans (and of course earning twice as much money in the process). To my knowledge Barron and Grierson alone went on to local baseball stardom. Later on, in the broadcasting phase, as they aged, listeners would often complain that the two distinct aspects of coverage would blur, and that color and play-by-play could not be distinguished, though I must confess that to me it really didn't seem to matter.

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