Last week's flick, 42, was the newest release that I'm watching this year. Today I've got the oldest, Fear Strikes Out, which came out in 1957.
Anthony Perkins stars in the "true" story of Jimmy Piersall. Piersall's major league career stretched from 1950 - 1967, but the movie covers up through the 1952 season. That was his true rookie year and the year he had his mental breakdown.
The movie shows him flipping out while with the Red Sox. Actually, he had been demoted to Birmingham when he was admitted to a mental hospital. The movie also places most of the blame for his problems on his hard-driving father,
played by Karl Malden. Piersall himself has criticized the movie for doing this. Mental illness actually ran in his family; his mother was institutionalized several times while he was growing up.
The athletic "ability" of Anthony Perkins as Piersall has often been criticized. and rightfully so. Both his throwing and his batting do not look major league. I always wondered why such a non-athlete was hired to portrait a big league player. Something that I never knew until doing some research for this post was that Perkins was left-handed while Piersall was a righty. Perkins had to play with his opposite hand and he looked like someone playing with the wrong hand.
Gary Cooper faced the same problem when he was cast as Lou Gerhig in The Pride of the Yankees. The solution for that movie was to film Cooper throwing normally and then flip the film around--a righty became a lefty.
The Pride of the Yankees was a big-budget movie and could afford to do some tricks to get the correct look. Fear Strikes Out seems to be pretty low budget. By 1957, big budget movies were in color, while run of the mill movies were in black and white. This is a black and white film.
More cost cutting....
Some stock shots of Fenway were used, but for actual action shots...
...this is Fenway Park?
...the uniforms don't match. The other players have a headspoon on the jersey that is missing from the jersey Perkins is wearing.
A low budget movie with bad acting that plays loose with the facts--Fear Strikes Out strikes out.
As a player Piersall spent time with the Red Sox, Indians, Senators, Mets, and Angels. He worked for Charlie Finley in the A's front office and did TV work for the Rangers and later teamed with Harry Caray doing White Sox TV. Its his time with the Sox that I'm most familiar with. Harry and Jimmy were very entertaining. As a Cub fan, I took great delight hearing them bash the Sox for poor play. They were brutally honest when the Sox were brutal, which was often during his time in the booth.
Eventually his mouth got him into trouble: he called Bill Veeck's wife a colossal bore and later said the player's wives were a bunch of horny broads. That's the kind of talk that gets you fired and in 1981 it did. But getting fired is what led to his Cub Connection.
After being fired by the Sox, the Cubs hired him as a roving instructor, teaching correct outfield techniques to the Cubs' minor league teams. He held this job through 1999 when his mouth again got him into trouble. The Cubs had just fired manager Jim Riggleman, but on his radio show, Jimmy said the Cubs should have fired the other two guys, meaning president Andy McPhail and GM Ed Lynch. Criticizing your bosses is not a good way to ensure job safety.
Wrigley Wax Connection
I actually got to see Jimmy while he was in the Cubs organization. From 1995 to 1998 the Cubs had their class A team in Rockford, Illinois. It was just a little more than an hours' drive from where we were living at the time, so I took the family to see the Cubbies a couple times. Tickets were cheap, the park was never full--it was a fun family night out.
One time we were able to get a foul ball--remember the park was pretty empty. During the game we were walking around and I spotted Jimmy Piersall. He wasn't in uniform, but I knew he worked for the Cubs and he was pretty recognizable. I gave him a Sharpie and politely asked him to sign....
which he did. My two boys had no idea who the old guy was, but I did.
When we got home I took the ball and started playing catch with the boys. We played until they started crying because their had hurt so much from my hard throws.
No we didn't. That was something Jimmy and his dad did.