In a time before mental illness was a subject people talked about above a hushed whisper, Jimmy Piersall was an anomaly.
But the star rookie for the Boston Red Sox, who made his debut in 1952, would become its human face that season, when he would publicly suffer a nervous breakdown.
Piersall would later write about the experience in a book, Fear Strikes Out, which would later be turned into a movie starring Anthony Perkins.
As the Boston Red Sox announced Sunday, Piersall died at age 87, following an illness.
Despite Piersall’s struggles with mental illness, the two-time All-Star put together an above-average baseball career that spanned 17 seasons. He would play eight of those 17 seasons with the Sox, and play the latter half of his career for the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, New York Mets, and California/Los Angeles Angels.
But it wasn’t the stats for which Piersall will be remembered, as The New York Times notes. It will be his strange on-field antics, including running the base-path backwards after swatting his 100th career home run as a Met; his constant antagonizing of fellow teammates; and shouting down umpires and opposing managers. He would later bring similar antics to the press box as a broadcaster.
But there was a reason for all the strange behavior: Piersall had been suffering from bipolar disorder. And as Dr. Barron H. Lerner, professor of medicine and population health at the New York University Langone Medical Center, wrote in The New York Times in 2015, “Mr. Piersall’s courageous description of his struggles with manic depression, now called bipolar disorder, helped bring the disease and its treatments out of the shadows.”
Below, watch a clip from the 1957 movie version of Fear Strikes Out.