DC Sports Day

Author Williams Talks Baseball Fandom, Phila. Roots

Wally Pipp

While readers of Chris Williams‘s new book Stealing First and other Baseball Stories (Sunbury Press, 135 pps.) will detect a certain Philadelphia influence in several of said stories, it’s the author’s love of the game and its history, across the ages and geographic locations, that stands out.

Williams, a native of the City of Brotherly Love, took some time to talk to SportsDay about that Philly (and Phillies) fandom in the context of the book, a quick read that spans more than a century of the game and is a mix of true tales and “what ifs” that most baseball fans should enjoy.

DC SportsDay: How much did your Philadelphia roots and Phillies fandom factor into how you decided which stories to include?

Chris Williams: I guess it has played a large role but not on a conscious decision level. Many of my baseball books and diamond memories are about the Phillies. I have noticed this “bias” and attempted to balance who and what I write about in my books. Baseball history in general fascinates me, but I’ve done more thinking about the Phils.

DCSD: I like that you went with a mix of historical pieces and sprinkled in some “what if” fantasy. How did you come up with the idea for the otherwise nondescript ’73 Phils as an imaginary Cinderella?

CW: Believe it or not, I’ve been thinking about that since 1973! I was a teenager and remember being excited about how close the Phillies were at the end of August. I hoped against hope that they would make a run at the title. And I also remember being very disappointed when they collapsed down the stretch. It really wasn’t [Steve] Carlton’s fault; the club was improved but had overachieved prior to September. But for awhile in ’73, it was fun.

DCSD: My favorite chapter is on your last visit to Connie Mack Stadium, because it evokes so many memories for us older fans of ballparks that are no longer with us. What is your best memory of the park and do you have similar thoughts about the Vet

CW: My best memory is that last visit I share in the chapter entitled “Visit to an Old Friend.” My second favorite memory about Connie Mack Stadium is a night my father and I attended a twi-night doubleheader against the Dodgers in September1967. Jim Bunning and Chris Short pitched for the Phils, and Don Drysdale and Bill Singer started for Los Angeles. Both games were classic pitching duels; unfortunately, the Phillies dropped both games 1-0.

I have many great memories about the Vet. Perhaps my favorite was the night they captured the World Championship in 1980. I wasn’t at the game, watched it on TV, and remember gently crying tears of joy. As a fan, I had been through some terrible seasons and capturing the Series almost seemed like a dream.

DCSD: I agree that the Jackie Robinson Story is an underrated baseball film, almost completely because of Robinson’s performance? What are some other baseball films that you think are under the radar that fans would enjoy?

CW: In no particular order, I would recommend:

  • RHUBARB (1951)-starring Ray Milland and William Frawley. It’s about a cat that inherits a major league baseball team.
  • ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1951)-starring Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh. Original version of the flick redone later by Disney. Funny stuff plus interior shots of historic Forbes Field and players wearing circa 1950 uniforms.
  • IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING (1949)-starring Ray Milland and Jean Peters. A baseball loving professor invents a liquid that causes baseballs to avoid wooden bats. Sounds crazy but it’s all in fun.

DCSD: You lean a lot on statistics in your analysis. Do you think today’s teams depend too much on the numbers in assembling rosters and managing games?

CW: No. However, it’s not a perfect art. It’s easy to rip sabermetrics when it doesn’t work, but the fact is that successful teams and players almost invariably compile good-to-excellent statistics. That’s not to say that an occasional “hunch” by a knowledgeable manager is a bad idea.

DCSD: What is the greatest accomplishment? Ray Oyler slashing .135/.213/.186 (!) and still getting 247 plate appearances for the 1968 Tigers, or Enzo Hernandez driving in 12 runs in 618 plate appearances for the 1971 Padres, or Jerry Royster carding a -4 WAR for the ’77 Braves?  

CW: Ray Oyler. A .213 OBP isn’t bad for that miniscule .135 BA. In 247 plate appearances, he managed 20 walks and made the most of his 29 hits by driving in 12 runs. I have to go with the man from Indianapolis, IN.

cover image: Wally Pipp, Yankees