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Jim Corsi, Newton native who pitched for the Red Sox, dies at 60

Jim Corsi, left, pitched for the Red Sox from 1997 to 1999.Globe Staff Photo/Barry Chin

By the time the gregarious and burly Jim Corsi stepped on the Fenway Park mound in a Red Sox uniform in April 1997, he was 35 years old, with 14 years of professional experience and stints with three other big league clubs behind him.

The wait was always going to be worth it for the persistent righthander who learned to pitch on the backyard mound his dad built for him in Newtonville, and who as a teenager watched from his Fenway Park seats the night Carlton Fisk hit his epic Game 6 home run in 1975.

“You grow up there. Where else do you want to play?” Mr. Corsi told the Globe in 1997. “I already got to pitch there in another team’s uniform. Now I want to put on a blue hat with a ‘B.’ It’s like a lifelong dream, ever since I was 5 years old.”

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Mr. Corsi, the well-traveled relief pitcher who enjoyed lightening the lives of family, friends, and colleagues, died early Tuesday morning of colon and liver cancer at his Bellingham home. He was 60 years old.

Jenna Corsi, one of Mr. Corsi’s four children, said her father’s favorite line — “We all need the clowns, to make us smile,” from his favorite song “Faithfully,” by Journey — captured his essence.

“He really emphasized his family, and just wanted to make people laugh and brighten people’s days,” Jenna said.

In 1982, three years after graduating from Newton North High School, Mr. Corsi was drafted by the New York Yankees. After spending two years in their farm system, he spent two more in the minors with the Red Sox, who cut him twice.

“At the time, I told them they’d be sorry,” said Mr. Corsi in 1997. “I was kind of upset because I was a hometown boy and I wanted to play for the Red Sox. All is forgiven now. I’m hoping the third time is a charm.

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“Everything has definitely come full circle. I’ve dreamed my whole life of pitching in the big leagues. It’s been a roller-coaster ride for sure. There’s no silver spoon.”

Mr. Corsi broke into the major leagues with the Oakland A’s in 1988, and pitched alongside Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in their championship 1989 season.

“The big thing that stands out with Jim, is . . . he’s not just your friend, he had like 24 other friends on the team, and not too many guys have that,” said Eckersley, godfather to Mr. Corsi’s son, Mitch, and whose son’s godmother is Mr. Corsi’s ex-wife, Diane. “Jim was as friendly as anything to everybody. Everybody had a relationship with him.

“Everything was open with him. His life was an open book.”

A jovial and laid-back presence, Mr. Corsi pitched out of the Red Sox bullpen from 1997–1999, with his children a frequent presence at Fenway Park games. His big-league career ended in 1999 with the Orioles.

“He had a decent career — I know what his ERA was lifetime, because he always told me, ‘3.25,’ ” said Eckersley with a laugh.

Eckersley, whose career ERA was 3.50, recalled one example of Mr. Corsi’s carefree attitude.

“Nowadays you see guys quick pitch. I remember one day when we were with Oakland and we were playing Minnesota and he quick-pitched Kirby Puckett. And I went, ‘What are you doing?’ And he laughed. It’s no big deal nowadays, but I was busting his chops back then. Kirby wasn’t happy.”

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Corsi was good friends with another Oakland teammate, Mark McGwire, whose mention of Corsi’s “hug over the phone” during his news conference after hitting record-setting home run No. 62 in 1998 blew away the pitcher.

“To even remember that, that’s incredible,” said Mr. Corsi. “I’ve got to get a copy of that tape, because 30 years from now, I’ll be looking at that tape. For him to do that is beyond the call of duty.”

Mr. Corsi’s pitching tenure with the Red Sox ended on a sour note, with the ballclub releasing him midway through the 1999 season despite having led the staff in ERA each of the prior two years.

“I wanted to keep playing here,” Mr. Corsi said. “I wanted to finish my career here on a good note, not going out like this. I thought we had a chance to win it this year.”

Mr. Corsi’s post-career relationship with the Red Sox was sturdy, beginning with analyst work with NESN from 2002-05. He was a frequent presence at Old-Timers’ games and assorted festivities at Fenway Park, as well as in their spring home of Fort Myers, Fla.

“His love and passion for the Red Sox, as well as his easy manner, constant willingness to help, and gift of great storytelling made him such a perfect representative for our organization,” Pam Kenn, Red Sox senior vice president of community, alumni and player relations, said in a statement. “He brought so much to so many, with an infectious love of baseball, humor, and boundless energy and heart. We lost a great player today, but more importantly, a great friend.”

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“We were saddened to hear of Jim’s passing after his courageous battle with cancer,” said Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy. “Jim’s heart was so big and full of love that his legacy goes far beyond his playing career and World Series championship. The affection he showed his family, this region, and every fan he encountered was incomparable. For me and so many others, he was the embodiment of that childhood dream to someday play for the hometown team. We were lucky to have had him as part of our Red Sox family, and extend our deepest condolences to his children, and all who knew and loved him.”

Mr. Corsi was diagnosed last September with colon cancer, which spread to his liver. In a recent interview with WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton, a visibly weakened Mr. Corsi grew emotional as he expressed regret for not undergoing preventive tests earlier.

“I made a mistake when I was younger,” said Mr. Corsi, by “not getting a colonoscopy. I should have done it. If you’re out there, don’t wait. Don’t be stupid. I was a professional athlete and thought I was invincible, strong. You’re not. Cancer is not prejudiced to anybody.

“That’s my message: Don’t wait. You don’t want to end up like this. If you get it soon enough, you’ll be all right.”

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Also in the interview with Burton, Mr. Corsi said, “I’m at peace. I know if I die, I’m going to a better place, that’s the No. 1 thing. I feel sorry for everybody I’ll leave behind.”

Mr. Corsi was the oldest of five children of Dorothy Corsi and her late husband, Ben Corsi. He is survived by his four children, Julianne, Mitch, Jenna, and Joey; and four siblings, Mike Corsi, John Corsi, Cynthia Athy, and Natalie Doyle.

A wake for Mr. Corsi will be held Sunday, Jan. 9, from 2-8 p.m. at Faith Community Church in Hopkinton. The funeral is at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 10, at St. Cecilia’s Church in Ashland.


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.