Once again, the Bison Books imprint of the University of Nebraska Press has reached into baseball's past and returned with a Hall of Fame read. Fear Strikes Out
is one of the game's most dramatic autobiographies. It is also one of the most important. When first published in 1955, it ventured into territory traditionally considered out of play for a sports story. "I must have been quite a card when I first broke into baseball's big league as a Boston Red Sox rookie in 1952," Piersall opens rather cheerily. He was a baseball clown, and the fans loved his offbeat shenanigans. One paragraph later, he tosses a huge, hanging curve. "Almost everybody...thought I was a riot. My wife knew I was sick, yet she was helpless to stop my mad rush toward a mental collapse."
In time, Piersall would become one of the silkiest centerfielders of the '50s--no mean feat given his contemporaries Mantle and Mays. A new afterword by Piersall catches us up to his later years (and stunts) in baseball and his post-career as a broadcaster. Fear is actually a prologue to that. It's a courageous story. Piersall's demons had him by the throat and nearly choked him. The breakdown he suffered early in his rookie years was so complete and so terrifying that his mind blanked out the next seven months before his own healing allowed for a painful reconstruction. Given that Fear was written in an era before biographic confessional and the public washing of an athlete's unclean flannels, Piersall's honesty and detail about mental illness, hospitalization, psychiatric therapy, and the struggle back to sanity are extraordinary. This is a truly marvelous book--better than the movie starring Anthony Perkins that was made from it--and, like the lead-off hitter Piersall was, it's earned its spot at the top of the order of any serious collection of baseball biographies. --Jeff Silverman
"Jim Piersall, 22 year old outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, had a mental breakdown in 1952—one so complete that seven months virtually have vanished from his memory. . . . This account of his experiences is a frank and fascinating one."—Chicago Sunday Tribune
(Chicago Sunday Tribune
"The story of a man who became mentally ‘sick,’ and how, through competent medical care, the help of a sympathetic and most understanding wife, the patience and encouragement of manager, teammates and fans, and above all his own splendid courage, he made a complete recovery and resumed his baseball career. . . . How he overcame his fears is a dramatic, heart-warming story. It is most refreshing to read how the Boston Red Sox, from manager down, backed up Jim in his fight for rehabilitation, and helped him regain the confidence that brought him back."—Library Journal