A big part of baseball fandom for many of its most fervent followers is it nearly endless trove of stories. And while many are known to more casual fans, the chance to dig a little deeper about less heralded players and feats keeps it interesting for those who have heard most of the common ones.
In Stealing First and other Baseball Stories (Sunbury Press, 135 pps.), author Chris Williams unearths a few tales, but also comes up with a few “what-ifs” and other original essays grounded in facts and statistics. Imagining the last-place 1973 Phillies, who finished the season at a lowly 71-91, as a Division or even World Series winner may seem a stretch, but Williams makes the point that had the previous year’s mound star Steve Carlton stayed healthy and performed close to his 1972 standard, the weak N.L. East could have meant a Phils crown.
The colorful Germany Schaefer, hard-luck Wally Pipp and tragically tinged Eddie Grant are the subjects of three of the chapters on early 20th century baseball, and studies of Jackie Robinson’s work in front of the movie camera in The Jackie Robinson Story and looks at eras like the late 60s and 80s also have prominent chapters.
Williams backs up his ideas with statistics—maybe a little too much so in some spots—but he makes his positions clear in an easy style that makes Stealing First a good choice for younger fans as well. I found the chapters that discussed stories of players like hapless hitters Bill Bergen and Mario Mendoza, and in particular the closing chapter on the author’s recollection of his own visits to Connie Mack Stadium as a youth, more compelling than those with more abstract ideas which leaned more on the numbers, but in all the book is a good choice for just about any baseball fan.