Fear Strikes Out

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Fear Strikes Out
Directed byRobert Mulligan
Screenplay byTed Berkman
Raphael Blau
Based onFear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story
by Jimmy Piersall and Al Hirshberg
Produced byAlan J. Pakula
StarringAnthony Perkins
Karl Malden
CinematographyHaskell B. Boggs
Edited byAaron Stell
Music byElmer Bernstein
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • March 20, 1957 (1957-03-20)
Running time
100 min.
CountryUnited States

"Fear Strikes Out" is a 1957 American biographical sports drama film depicting the life and career of American baseball player Jimmy Piersall. It is based on Piersall's 1955 memoir Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story, co-written with Al Hirshberg. The film stars Anthony Perkins as Piersall and Karl Malden as his father, and it was the first directed by Robert Mulligan.

This film is a Paramount Picture and was preceded by a 1955 TV version starring Tab Hunter.[1]

The format of the film allows documentary footage of the stadium scenes to be used during the game sequences.


Based on Piersall's autobiography, the film traces Piersall's rise from the sandlots of Waterbury, Connecticut, to the Boston Red Sox professional baseball team. Karl Malden plays his domineering father who pushes him further and further.

Plagued by problems, Jim marries Mary but they live with his parents. When he is eventually is chosen for the Boston Red Sox it is in the infield position of shortstop for which he has little experience. He calls his father to apologise.

Daunted by the huge crowd and the pressure of his father watching his first time at-bat, the pressure nearly causes Jim to strike out. But on the final pitch, he hits a home run. Rather than celebrate in a normal way, he instead runs to the backstop fence where his father sits shouting "look dad, I told you I could do it". His teammates try to restrain him as he climbs the fence. He swings his bat at them. Eventually the police subdue him, and he is taken to a mental institution.

After a long period of therapy, Jim realizes that he has excelled in baseball to please his father — not for his own gratification.[1]


1955 TV version[edit]

The film was based on the book by Piersall which had been adapted for TV in 1955 for the show Climax!.

Rights to the book were bought in July 1955.[2]

The New York Times called it "absorbing" and praised Tab Hunter's portrayal of Jimmy Piersall as "perceptive and believable."[3]

Hunter had a romantic relationship with Anthony Perkins. He says this relationship was strained after Perkins took the role of Piersall in the film version.[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

Robert Mulligan was a Directors Guild of America Best Director nominee.

Fear Strikes Out was nominated for the American Film Institute's 2008 list in the sports film category.[5]


In 1957, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:

Oddly enough, the scenes of baseball, while interesting in this account, are secondary to the scenes of drama between the father and his son. The issues are not whether Piersall will snag those long flies or clout home runs but whether he will have the approval of his old man, sitting there in the stands. The weight of the paternal ambition is the critical factor in this film. And it is felt by the nerve-racked observer to the point where it is recognizable that the young man must go mad. ... Fortunately, Mr. Perkins plays the young fellow excellently, not only conveying the gathering torment but also actually looking like a ballplayer on the field. And Karl Malden is compelling as the father, combining the ignorant dominance of a bitter man with the occasional tenderness of a parent who genuinely loves his only son. ...Robert Mulligan's direction is vigorous..."[6]

Dr. Sharon Packer wrote in 2012 that Fear Strikes Out is very unusual in cinematic history in that it portrays electroconvulsive therapy in a positive light.[7]


  1. ^ a b Erickson, Hal. Rovi "Fear Strikes Out" Synopsis
  2. ^ Adams, Val (23 July 1955). "TV Scenic Artists Win Pay Increase: Three Major Networks and Union Agree on 3-Year Pact Retroactive to April 1". New York Times. p. 33. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  3. ^ Shanley, J.P. (19 August 1955). "TV: 'Fear Strikes Out' – Outfielder's True Story Told on 'Climax!'". New York Times. p. 39. Retrieved August 28, 2018..
  4. ^ Schulman, Michael (15 October 2015). "Tab Hunter's Secrets". New Yorker.
  5. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley (March 21, 1957). "True-Life Story of Jim Piersall; 'Fear Strikes Out' Has Debut at the State Ballplayer Overcame a Mental Illness". p. 37. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  7. ^ Packer, M.D., Sharon (18 September 2012). Cinema's Sinister Psychiatrists: From Caligari to Hannibal. McFarland. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-7864-9241-1. Retrieved 19 September 2021.

External links[edit]