Customer Reviews: Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story
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on February 1, 2005
After my parents both were committed to a state hospital on two different occasions, I lived with the secret -- in shame. While in grade school, I was looking for a sports book to read and ran across Piersall's book. By publicly telling his story and frankly admitting he was mentally ill, Piersall helped me change my attitude and lose my shame. I realized mental illness is quite common and can be treated successfully.

The book was a godsend to a child living with psychological trauma.
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on June 8, 2000
This short biography of talented centerfielder Jim Piersall of the Red Sox has long been well-received for it's frank portrayal of mental illness and the difficult road to recovery. Unfortunately, the book is ultimately disappointing because it goes only to the brink of discovery; we never fully understand the real cause of the illness or have explained to us what the treatment was like.
The book begins with Piersall's fascinating life story including his difficult family life and we see the strains of his illness develop from his earliest memories. Piersall proves to be a very real person and his humanity is quite believable as he accomplishes many things under the heavy burden of his illness. However, about the time Piersall suffers his blackout, the book blacks out as well and we only learn about his descent into madness as he thumbs through photo albums with his longsuffering wife. He only mentions in passing that he received shock therapy, but we never learn why or for how long or whether there were other treatments involved. The book has a gloriously happy ending with Piersall fully recovered and on his way to Spring Training for next season. I think the reason for this is that the book may have been written as a sort of apology or explanation to the general public about Piersall and his antics on and off the field; it also may have been considered poor taste in the 1950s to have been more descriptive than that.
Overall, this book is great for biographical information on Piersall and as an inspirational story of triumph over adversity, but may leave you hungry for more detail.
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VINE VOICEon May 31, 2015
Written at a very young age, after he'd only been an established major-league baseball player for three full seasons, "Fear Strikes Out" chronicles Jim Piersall's struggles with mental illness, and the ultimate breakdown that led to his being hospitalized in a mental institution during the 1952 season. The book came out in 1955, and must have been fairly ground-breaking in its day. While such a book written today would include a lot more specific detail about diagnosis and treatment (at the time, Piersall was only said to have had "nervous exhaustion"), Piersall leads the reader step-by-step through his condition. Several passages in the book are written in first-person narrative, as the author illustrates Piersall's uncontrolled racing thoughts. Piersall then blacks out, losing several months of his life in 1952, and awakening in the "violent ward" of a State mental hospital after having undergone electro-shock therapy (this book pre-dates "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"). It's only after that that Piersall describes, in slow-motion and painful detail, the symptoms and behavior that prematurely ended his 1952 baseball season and which led to his waking up in the violent ward.

Piersall holds back few of his thought processes in the months and years leading up to his breakdown. He describes his mother's history of mental illness, and father's demanding personality (which, according to Piersall, was then over-played as a plot point for the 1957 movie adaptation).

The book is dated, in a few senses. Piersall is told that that he can simply wish, or think away, his mental illness; from a modern perspective, I assume this would now be regarded as incorrect or at least incomplete advice. Also, the book is written basically as one single chapter, with few breaks between sections; modern sports autobiographies no longer tend to look like this (although it does make the book harder to put down!).

Happily, Jim Piersall is still alive today. He ended up playing in the big leagues for parts of 16 seasons, and slugged over 100 career home runs, with his 100th most memorably coming as a member of the New York Mets, which he celebrated by running the bases backward. He was then famously paired with Harry Caray as a Chicago White Sox broadcaster in the late 1970s, and later spent many years as an instructor and scout with the Chicago Cubs. While many passages in the book are painful to read, in terms of their honesty and level of detail, the incidents that are portrayed are now nearly 65 years old, and Piersall has wound up with what appears to be a happy ending.
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on November 23, 2008
Jimmy Piersall was a troubled man who didn't understand what was happening in his world of confusion. But, after undergoing a mental breakdown,and receiving loving support from his wife, he returned to baseball and continued on to a very distinguished career as one of the premier centerfielders in the major leagues. He was a man of courage, enormous talent, who survived his travails and after baseball he worked as a broadcaster and promoter of wrestling. The book should be read by every baseball fan who remembers him. He wasn't just the goofy guy who after hitting a homerun, ran the bases backward. A splendid story.
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on December 29, 2015
This book was published in 1955. For the time it was published it was remarkable how candid Piersall was about his illness. Back then this type of illness was usually only talked about in hushed tones. For just writing this book candidly Piersall should be highly commended. I'm sure this went a long way for people to understand mental illness better. In this book Piersall goes though his young life to his days of treatment with mental illness. He had a somewhat harsh upbringing. His mother had mental illness and was treated successfully for it. His father could be very harsh at times but was supportive of Piersall's athletic pursuits. Piersall was a fine athlete in high school. Excelling in basketball as well as baseball. He probably could have excelled in football too but his dad forbade him to play it. Piersall quickly went through the Red Sox farm system and made the team in 1952. But his mental illness overtook him during that season and was eventually taken to a mental facility for treatment. He was treated successfully there and went on to a good MLB career. No mention though as to what kind of treatments he had. That would have been interesting to read about and compare to todays treatments. He also has written a small portion at the end in 1999. But not much was written about how he has progressed since his time as a player. Although you can read in other places as to some things that went on his life after his playing days. This is a good book but there is so much more that could have been written and followed up on. He is still alive (Though I do not know his overall health condition) so maybe he can relate more details sometime soon to fill in some of the blanks left in this book.
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on June 12, 2008
Our heroes wear uniforms, not only of the home team, but seemingly a vest for the body blows life can deliver.

And their demons are from the delights of stardom, not mental illness. Right?

In this chronicle of the 1952 season with the Boston Red Sox, then a 22-year-old emerging star, Jim Piersall, and co-author Al Hirshberg tackle what remains a taboo issue in clubhouses and sports talk; mental illness - bipolar disorder - and the athlete.

Originally published in 1955, it is a hard-hitting account of Piersall and his struggle while under the bright lights of Major League Baseball to confront his personal demons, many which had been building since childhood.

But Piersall - once he fully understood that he needed help - did not face the struggle alone. Those close to him in his personal and professional endeavors demonstrated that the timeless tools of patience and understanding are crucial to a person's recovery.

There is no stepping out of the batter's box in life, though it seems as if every pitch is coming in wild, high and tight. For Piersall to hit the demons out of that ballpark is an inspiring tale of victory in the biggest box score of all.
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on October 18, 2014
Really insightful. I am so glad I read this courageous auto-biography. As I was enjoying (to my surprise!) "The Kid" - The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, he referred to this book. I really got hooked on Jim Piersall's story of perseverance, faith, struggle with mental illness and eventual success. I learned a lot from his positive attitude.
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on April 21, 2015
When I was a boy ,I recall seeing the movie about Jimmy. I loved baseball and was upset when seeing such a sad story even a such a young age. I'm so glad to read this success story and how now it is not a sad story at all but a very uplifting one.
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on October 26, 2014
Really enjoyed reading about one of baseball 's more flamboyant personalities! In spite of tremendous ability, Jim Piersall fought mental illness which eventually halted his career for a short time. This Is a very good read. Very inspirational!
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on November 8, 2000
"Fear Strikes Out" tells the tale of Jimmy Piersall, who played for the Boston Red Sox in the early to late 1950s. He and Willy Mays of the Giants were the best defensive center fielders in pro baseball then and perhaps ever. "FSO" is more concerned with Jimmy's nervous breakdown in 1952 and his subsequent recovery. The real story should be his patient wife, without whom Piersall would have been at sea. The Catholic Church has canonized people for less! "FSO" skims along the edges of Jimmy's problems but to its' credit does not sweep them under a rug. The problems may be sanitized but not trivialized. In my opinion, the true meat of the book is its' 1950s American League backdrop, which I'm just barely old enough to remember. Red Sox fans should enjoy reading about Ted Lepcio, Lou Boudreau, Ellis Kinder, Joe Cronin and Billy Goodman. "FSO" has a limited scope and appeal. The 1950s sportsworld was lilly white and not given to tell all, dirt digging locker room scoops and the book reflects that era. Jimmy gets a free pass on some (not all) of his antics. Readers who accept those constraints should find "FSO" enjoyable and worthwhile. Anyone with a dad or uncle, etc who is a hardcore Red Sox fan has a great Christmas present to click unto.
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