powered by AFI
The working title of this film was The Jim Piersall Story. The picture begins with the following written foreword: "This is the story of one of America's leading sports figures, Jim Piersall, as taken from his own account of his life." While the onscreen credits state that the film is based on a story by Piersall and Albert S. Hirshberg, it is actually taken from Piersall's autobiography, written in conjunction with Hirshberg.
Piersall played major league baseball from 1950 to 1967, most notably as an outfielder and shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. According to Los Angeles Times, Piersall entered a Massachusetts hospital for a nervous order in July 1952, but returned to the major leagues, fully recovered, the very next year. Called by New York Yankees' manager Casey Stengel the most natural defensive outfielder he had ever seen, Piersall won Gold Gloves in 1958 with the Red Sox and in 1961 with the Cleveland Indians. He was selected to the All-Star team in 1954 and 1956, and was named the Red Sox's most valuable player in 1957. Revered as one of the true characters in baseball, Piersall was noted for such on-field antics as circling the bases running backwards to celebrate hitting his 100th career home run. Following the conclusion of his playing career, Piersall became a radio personality, announcing with Harry Caray for the Chicago White Sox, and later served as a minor league instructor in the Chicago Cubs organization.
According to the file on the film in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, Fear Strikes Out was originally budgeted at $924,000, including a payment of $50,000 for the film rights to Piersall's best-selling book. Time reported in March 1957 that the final budget remained under one million dollars. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Don Hartman, the production head of Paramount, assigned his old assistant, Alan Pakula, to produce Fear Strikes Out as his initial film outing. The picture also marked the feature film debut of director Richard Mulligan, who had previously worked in television. The producer and director collaborated on six more films, most notably the 1962 Universal release To Kill a Mockingbird (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).
Fear Strikes Out marked the feature film debut of actress Norma Moore, who played "Mary Teevan Piersall" in the film. Hollywood Reporter news items include Edward "Skip" McNally in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. In August 1955, Piersall's autobiography was adapted for television as an episode of the dramatic anthology series Climax. Entitled "Fear Strikes Out," the episode was directed by Herbert Swope, Jr. and starred Tab Hunter as Piersall and Mona Freeman as his wife.