RIP to Jim Corsi, a reliever who pitched for five teams in a 10-year career in the majors. He died on January 4 at the age of 60. Corsi pitched for the Oakland Athletics (1988-89, 1992, 1995-96), Houston Astros (1991), Florida Marlins (1993), Boston Red Sox (1997-99) and Baltimore Orioles (1999).
The day before he died, WBZ TV in Boston aired a video about Corsi’s battle with liver and colon cancer and his coming to terms with his mortality. Corsi lived long enough to walk his daughter Julianne down the aisle at an wedding scheduled early due to his illness. If you watch the video, Corsi said that his mistake was not scheduling a colonoscopy when he should have. That procedure could have caught the cancer early enough to be treatable. If you are at an age where a colonoscopy is advised, don’t wait and don’t put it off. Here is information from the Mayo Clinic about it: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/colonoscopy/about/pac-20393569
James Bernard Corsi was born in Newton, Mass., on September 9, 1961. As you’d expect, he was a life-long Red Sox fan, and according to his obituary in The Boston Globe, he was in Fenway Park in 1975 on the night that Carlton Fisk hit his famous Game 6 home run in the World Series. Corsi became a pitcher and was one of the best at Newton North High School. In 1978, Newton North finished with a 12-4 record, and he won 7 of them, with no defeats, and a 1.19 ERA.
Corsi went to St. Leo College in Florida, where he had to earn a baseball scholarship as a walk-on. The Monarchs had a pitching staff dominated by New Englanders, including Corsi and New Hampshire native Bob Tewksbury. Future Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi was the team’s second baseman. Corsi was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 25th Round of the 1982 Amateur Draft, and he decided to forgo his senior year at St. Leo and enter pro ball. In his final season at St. Leo, he had a 7-3 record with a 2.69 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 70 innings. He spent two seasons, 1982 and ’83, playing throughout the low minors for the Yankees, without much success as a starter. He missed the entire 1984 season because of bone spurs that kept him from raising his right arm above his shoulder.
“My concern then wasn’t so much whether I’d pitch again. It was whether I’d even have normal use of my arm again,” he later related in an interview. Corsi was released by the Yankees and reappeared in the Red Sox organization in 1985 as a relief pitcher. Corsi had a middling season for Class-A Greensboro in 1985 (4.23 ERA, 9 saves), was cut, re-signed by Boston, had a very good season in Double-A New Britain (2.28 ERA in 29 games) and was cut again. He was in his age 24 season, and the Red Sox were looking for younger pitchers. He joined the Oakland organization for the 1987 season after a positive scouting report from his old college teammate Ricciardi and finally reached Triple-A in 1988. The 26-year-old had a 2-5 record in 50 games with 16 saves with Tacoma, which was good enough for second place in the Pacific Coast League behind Keith Comstock’s 17 saves.
The Oakland A’s had been watching Corsi as a prospect ever since he threw 2 scoreless innings against the team in a 1987 exhibition game. He allowed a leadoff single to Rob Nelson and then retired the next 6 batters. “He throws really hard,” said Oakland pitching coach Dave Duncan. “Everybody in the organization considers his arm to be major-league quality right now. When he needs is some consistency.”
After demonstrating consistently good pitching in Tacoma, Oakland brought Corsi to the majors in the summer of 1988, the first of several Tacoma-to-Oakland trips he would make that year. He debuted in the ninth inning of a game on June 28, with Oakland trailing the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1. Corsi quickly gave up a double to Rob Deer and balked him to third base, but he got out of a jam with a couple of groundouts and a strikeout of Dale Sveum. He was really good as a reliever down the home stretch of the season. He had an 0-1 record and 1.65 ERA in 10 games out of the pen. His first (and only) career start was a rocky one, as Seattle tagged him with 6 runs in 5 innings. That performance raised his ERA to 3.80 on the season. Oakland won the AL pennant before losing to the Dodgers in the World Series, and Corsi was not on the postseason roster.
After missing a season because of bone spurs, being released three times and toiling away in the low minors for an eternity, Corsi had reached the point that, if he wasn’t on an Opening Day roster, he was at least one of the first pitchers up from the minors. “If you tell Jim that he can’t do something, he’ll try to go out and prove you wrong,” said Frank Colarusso, assistant general manager at Tacoma. “He throws hard and he works hard to keep himself in shape. And he’s great to be around.”
Corsi, over the course of his career, was consistently described as a great teammate — friendly and open. But he had some swagger, too. “One night in Calgary, our team went out to stretch, and guys kidded him about the 16-pound shotput he carried around to strengthen his arm,” Colarusso recalled. “So he threw it through the outfield wall and put a hole in it. They stopped razzing him after that.”
(The shotput was Mike Marshall‘s idea. The former pitcher coached at St. Leo and recommended Corsi use it to strengthen his arm.)
Corsi had another back-and-forth season in 1989, moving between Tacoma and Oakland once more. He was extremely effective with the A’s, with a 1.88 ERA in 22 games and 21 strikeouts against 10 walks. He made two appearances at Fenway Park in 1989 and held the Red Sox to 1 hit over 4 innings. Add another scoreless appearance against the Red Sox in Oakland, and he threw 5-2/3 shutout innings against his former employer. “I told the Sox they’d be sorry,” Corsi said. Because Corsi was brought to the majors after September 1, he was ineligible for the postseason. But he did get a ring when Oakland defeated the San Francisco Giants in the ’89 World Series.
Corsi spent most of 1990 on the disabled list after straining his triceps muscle in spring training, and he made just 5 appearances for Tacoma. He was allowed to leave Oakland as a free agent and signed with the Houston Astros. He started 1991 in the minors but joined the Astros in mid-April after Mike Scott went on the disabled list. Corsi ended up pitching in 47 games for Houston, with a 3.71 ERA. He was winless in 5 decisions, but he proved he was healthy enough to pitch a full season. He also struck out 53 batters in 77-2/3 innings and walked just 23 — 5 intentionally.
Corsi signed with the Oakland Athletics again and split 1992 between Tacoma and the major leagues. He pitched in 32 games for the A’s and allowed just 2 earned runs over the second half of the season. He made his postseason debut in the AL Championship Series against Toronto, throwing 2 scoreless innings in 3 games in a losing effort. Despite a 4-2 record and 1.43 ERA in the regular season, Oakland left Corsi unprotected in the 1993 expansion draft for the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies. Corsi, 31, was one of the oldest pitchers taken in the draft. He was expected to be a part of a veteran bullpen, along with closer Bryan Harvey and relievers Joe Klink and Richie Lewis. However, he missed all of spring training with an inflamed rotator cuff and struggled when he returned to the majors after a rehab assignment, with a 6.64 ERA in 15 games. He needed two surgeries, in July and October, to repair torn cartilage in his shoulder. Released again after 1993, he re-signed with Florida and spent all of 1994 in the minors, trying to regain his form and show that he could still retire opposing hitters.
It took a third tour of duty with Oakland to get him back to the majors. Once the 1995 season got underway due to the strike, Corsi was back in the majors and pitching as well as he ever had. He was the team’s most valuable reliever until he went on the disabled list on June 30 with shoulder tendonitis. That injury kept him out for nearly a month and a half, and in that time, the A’s bullpen fell apart, and the team fell from 2-1/2 games out of first place to 16 games. Still, Corsi ended the season with a 2-4 record, 2.20 ERA and the first 2 saves of his major-league career. He returned to Oakland in 1996, played in the same place for two straight years for the first time since 1988-89. He appeared in 56 games, earned 3 more saves, and had a perfect 6-0 record and 4.03 ERA. He made one trip to the disabled list, but it wasn’t because of his arm, for once. He pulled his groin while warming up in the bullpen on April 27.
Corsi became a free agent and had some options. He could have rejoined Oakland but instead elected to sign with his beloved Red Sox. The homecoming was almost wrecked when the Red Sox sent him to the minors to start the season — much to the dismay of his Red Sox teammates. “There are guys in Triple-A we know can help us, like a guy by the name of Jim Corsi,” said Tim Naehring. “Jim Corsi. And you could print that.”
Corsi did rejoin the team in time for the home opener in Fenway Park.. After some early-season struggles, he settled down and became a very consistent reliever. He recorded his first save for Boston on July 1, pitching 2-1/3 scoreless innings in his first appearance after a stint on the disabled list. He was also the winning pitcher in a 10-inning, 8-7 win over Seattle. Due to some lineup changes, Corsi would have come to bat second in the tenth inning. Manager Jimy Williams sent Steve Avery (who grounded out) to pinch-hit for him, and Corsi got the win when Nomar Garciaparra drove in the winning run. He was still a little upset that he didn’t get to show off his batting skills, though.
“That could have been me hitting a game-winning home run,” he cracked. “Do you know what a fantasy that is, to hit at Fenway, especially when you grew up around here? I told the guys the game would have been over after the second hitter, but they tended to disagree.” Corsi was 0-for-2 at the plate with a strikeout in his career.
For the 1997 season, Corsi won 5 of 8 decisions and saved 2 games, ending the year with a 3.43 ERA — the lowest ERA on the staff for any pitcher who threw more than 50 innings. He repeated the feat in 1998, when he lowered his ERA to 2.59 in 59 games. The Red Sox won 92 games that season and reached the playoffs as a wild card team. They lost to Cleveland in the AL Division Series, and Corsi pitched in 2 of the 4 games, allowing no runs in 3 innings of work.
Corsi also saved face among the Red Sox pitchers that season. As Mark McGwire chased Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season, Corsi sold the staff about his friendship with the slugger that went back to McGwire’s rookie year. They didn’t believe him… up until McGwire name-checked Corsi in his press conference following home run No. 62. “I talked to a good friend of mine today, Jim Corsi. So everyone in Boston, Jim Corsi does know me. And thanks for giving me a hug over the phone, Jim,” McGwire said.
The dream of playing in Boston ended on a sour note in 1999. Corsi struggled in Boston, with a 5.25 ERA in 23 games. The Red Sox designated the 37-year-old for assignment in July, and he finished the year with the Baltimore Orioles, pitching pretty well in 13 appearances. He spent 2000 pitching in the minors for Arizona and Baltimore, but he did not return to the majors. When he failed to make the St. Louis Cardinals in the spring of 2001, he retired from the game.
Corsi pitched from 1982 to 2000, missing only the 1984 season. In all that time, he never once spent an entire season in the major leagues. He pitched at least one game in the minors every year, either because he was sent there or because he was rehabbing from an injury. In spite of all the setbacks that would have caused many people to hang up their glove, Corsi pitched for 10 seasons in the major leagues and made 368 appearances in a big-league uniform. He had a 22-24 record with 7 saves and a 3.25 ERA. He struck out 290 batters in 481-1/3 innings and walked 191. He also threw 5 scoreless innings in 5 postseason games.
Shortly after retiring, Corsi spent a couple years with the New England Sports Network as an analyst for Red Sox games. He then went to work in the family business, Corsi Construction, with his father and brothers. He remained an active part of the Red Sox family for the rest of his life. He is survived by four children: Julianne, Jenna, Mitch and Joey.
One last Jim Corsi story. Early on, I mentioned that he had been cut twice by the Red Sox. He pitched in Greensboro in 1985, was released, re-signed with the Sox and released again after the ’86 season. Why was he released and re-signed in the same offseason? He explained to The Boston Globe in 1989:
“After my first season in the Sox organization, I received a letter from them telling me I would be re-signed. So I went to Florida a week before spring training, and a few days later I called home, and dad told me we had gotten another letter from the Red Sox, this time saying I was released.
“I called the Red Sox and told them I was already down, so they let me work out and I made the New Britain team. The crazy part of the story is that we had a new mailman that week and he had left the mail at the wrong door. We didn’t get any mail for a week. I wouldn’t be here now [pitching in the majors] if I had gotten that letter.”
For more information: The Boston Globe