The Westbury Press’ Don Harrison had the pleasure of catching up with former Red Sox outfielder / electroshock patient Jimmy Piersall at a recent Connecticut autograph session. “I think Piersall musta clanged his empty head on Karl Malden’s nose one time too many” muses Baseball Think Factory’s Repoz, an unscientific diagnosis, to be sure.
On and off the field, Piersall often could not control himself, which nearly led to his early exit from baseball and, in 1952, his commitment to a mental hospital. His comeback the following season provided the impetus for his autobiography, Fear Strikes Out, written with the late Al Hirshberg. A biopic with the same title followed in 1957, starring the miscast Anthony Perkins as Piersall and the talented Karl Malden as his overbearing father.
Piersall has disowned the film. “They had a fag playing me,” he wailed. “I didn’t climb no screen. My father wasn’t as tough as they made him out to be.”For this appearance in Westport, a speaking engagement at the Hartford World Series Club the following night and a couple of other stops, Piersall had flown from Chicago to Boston. He and his third wife, Jan, share a home in suburban Wheaton, Ill. and winter in Scottsdale, Ariz.
On this trip, there would be no visit to his native Waterbury, a once-flourishing city of 107,000 in the Naugatuck Valley.
“I was there five years ago. It’s really a crime what they’ve done to that city. It makes me sick,” Piersall said. “I said to the mayor, ‘If I give you a $1,000 bucks, will you fix it up?’ He told me ‘Don’t bother. It’ll only get dirty again.’”