The often outrageous outfielder and broadcaster whose emotional breakdown while a rookie with the Boston Red Sox was portrayed in the 1957 movie “Fear Strikes Out,” a rare glimpse at an athlete’s mental illness, died Saturday.
Jimmy Piersall, the often outrageous outfielder and broadcaster whose emotional breakdown while a rookie with the Boston Red Sox was portrayed in the 1957 movie “Fear Strikes Out,” a rare glimpse at an athlete’s mental illness, died Saturday in Wheaton, Illinois. He was 87.
His death was announced by the Red Sox.
Piersall was an outstanding center fielder, a solid hitter and a two-time All-Star, playing in the major leagues for 17 seasons. But his career nearly ended just when it was getting underway.
Envisioned as the ultimate successor to Red Sox’ star center fielder Dom DiMaggio, Piersall clowned on the field early in his rookie season, 1952; fought with or simply outraged teammates and opposing players; and harangued umpires.
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“I was a funny man, a baseball clown, and where the Red Sox went, the fans flocked to see me,” Piersall said in his 1955 book “Fear Strikes Out,” written with Al Hirshberg. The book was the basis for the movie.
“Almost everybody except the Red Sox and the umpires thought I was a riot. My wife knew I was sick, yet she was helpless to stop my mad rush toward a mental collapse.”
The Red Sox demoted Piersall to the minors in June 1952, hoping he could gain control of his emotions, but his antics continued, and he entered a mental hospital in Massachusetts a month later. He remained hospitalized for six weeks, undergoing shock treatment and counseling for a nervous breakdown.
Piersall returned to the Red Sox in 1953 and seemed to have surmounted his emotional demons. But he often showboated in the summers to come, most memorably in June 1963, playing for the New York Mets, when he circled the bases…