HEISER: In baseball book, York County author offers unusual stories, looks to dispel myths

  • Chris Williams is an author who lives in Paradise Township.
  • Williams recently wrote "Stealing First and Other Old-Time Baseball Stories."
  • Williams is a veteran author on multiple platforms who has written five books.
Chris Williams
"Stealing First and Other Old-Time Baseball Stories" is the latest book by York County author Chris Williams.

Chris Williams' closest brush with baseball greatness probably came when he was a junior varsity catcher.

The year was 1973 and Williams was a sophomore for the Neshaiminy High School Redskins.

One of Williams' teammates at the suburban Philadelphia school was a varsity pitcher by the name of Len Barker. That would be the same Len Barker who would go on to win 74 major league games, including a 1981 no-hitter for the Cleveland Indians against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Barker, known as "The Big Donkey," was an imposing figure on the mound. As a major leaguer, he was listed at 6-feet, 5-inches and 225 pounds. 

Williams, in intersquad action for Neshaminy, had the honor of catching Barker. Unfortunately, he also faced the frightening prospect of facing Barker with a bat in his hands at the plate.

It did not go well.

"Even then, his fastball and curve were virtually unhittable, and his control was pinpoint," Williams said. "I batted against him once. It was one-two-three strikes and you’re out. I never even swung the bat because I couldn’t hit what I couldn’t see. Barker probably doesn’t remember me; I was just some punk JV catcher, but I remember him — very well."

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Williams' baseball playing career ended a couple years later at age 17. His love of the game, however, never faltered.

Baseball book: That passion, combined with an affinity for writing, has led the the 62-year-old York County resident to recently author a book about the national pastime, titled: "Stealing First and Other Old-Time Baseball Stories," available from Sunbury Press.

In the book, he offers up several unusual stories from baseball's long-ago past and looks to dispel some long-held myths, while also featuring loads of interesting statistics and compelling photos.

Williams moved to York County in the 1990 and lives in Paradise Township. He said he and his wife moved to the county because his wife is from the area and, after several years living in the Philadelphia area, they "decided to move here to escape the tumult of heavy traffic, higher crime and high cost-of-living."

He's a veteran author spanning several media platforms, including five traditional print books. When he's not writing, Williams has worked as a certified pet trainer at the Pet Smart store in Hanover for eight years.

Lover of baseball history: The game's recent emphasis on sabermetrics sparked his interest in writing his latest book.

"I love baseball history, especially digging into the statistics," Williams said. "In recent years there has been an explosion of statistical categories giving us a better understanding of the game. But, I believe this has left many followers of the game behind because hard-working, busy people do not have the time to fully digest the mountain of statistical information available.

"I think the older, more-traditional statistical categories still have value in considering various diamond topics. I wanted to offer a work that busy folks could appreciate without insulting their intelligence by being so simple as being insulting.

"I also believe there are enough statistics in 'Stealing First and Other Old-Time Baseball Stories' to satisfy the stats wonk."

Interesting chapters: In the book, Williams covers a number of interesting topics, including a chapter about a player who stole first base twice, a chapter that seeks to dismantle the myth that Mario Mendoza was the worst hitter of all-time and a chapter about the excellent player (Wally Pipp) who was supplanted as the Yankees' first baseman by the immortal Lou Gerhig.

The latter two chapters attempt to dispel some long-held beliefs about Mendoza (who was the inspiration for the ill-famed Mendoza Line) and Pipp.

Pleased with reaction: So far, Williams said he is pleased with the public reaction to the book.

"The response to the book has been good, especially considering COVID-19 restrictions," Williams said. "I can’t do in-person book events, but electronic media has offered decent avenues for book promotion. We’re contacting libraries all over the country and many librarians and directors have responded positively. The book is also available in Kindle and right now, the response for this electronic version has been quite satisfying. Print sales are OK, but I’m certain that will jump once things return to normal."

During these difficult times, when baseball is on indefinite hiatus, we need every distraction we can get.

Williams' book just may provide a few desperately-needed hours of diversion for baseball-starved fans in York County, and beyond.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.