If you ask most folks from York County if they knew who Willie Sherdel was, the most common response would likely be "who?"
The Sherdel family and author John Coulson are hoping to make the former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher better known to area sports fans.
Part of that goal was met Sunday, when Sherdel, who was nicknamed "Wee Willie" by a St. Louis sports writer back in 1925, was posthumously inducted into the York Area Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place at PeoplesBank Park in York before the York Revolution’s home game against Southern Maryland.
“Quite often I ask people if they heard of Willie Sherdel and they would say that they never heard of him,” said Coulson, who recently wrote a book about Sherdel. “So he was a perfect guy to choose.”
Born in Midway, between Hanover and McSherrystown, the southpaw, was either 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-10, depending on the source, and weighed just 160 pounds. Despite his small stature, however, Sherdel remains the Cardinals' winningest left-handed pitcher ever with 165 victories over a 15-year career that spanned from 1918 to 1932. Several generations of his family were represented Sunday for his induction.
“He was a pretty humble guy,” said John Sherdel, who is one of Willie’s grandsons. “He didn’t talk about his accomplishments.”
“So many people didn’t realize how good he was because he wouldn’t have told them,” Coulson said.
Subject of a book: Sherdel’s remarkable career, combined with his quiet nature, spurred Coulson, a native of Hanover, to write a book about the St. Louis legend titled: "Wee Willie Sherdel – The Cardinals’ Winningest Left-Hander."
“The more I learned about him, the more impressed I became,” Coulson said. “He received his World Series ring in 1926 from Charles Lindbergh right after Lindbergh made his flight (across the Atlantic). One of his teammates in the minor leagues was Jim Thorpe. And he was portrayed in a movie they did about Grover Cleveland Alexander’s life.”
Hanover roots: Sherdel was born and raised in the Hanover area and graduated Hanover High School. After playing minor league ball for the Hanover Raiders and in Milwaukee from 1915-1917, the Cardinals brought the left-handed pitcher to the majors in 1918.
His best years in the majors came after Rogers Hornsby took over as the Cardinals manager in 1925. He was 15-6 in 1925 to lead the National League in wins.
Ruth connection: In 1926, he pitched in the first of his two World Series against a New York Yankees organization led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Two years later, he won 21 games and was a candidate for National League MVP.
“I knew that he pitched against Babe Ruth,” John Sherdel said. “But you had to ask him about it to get him to talk about it.”
Coulson enjoyed talking to the Sherdel family, as well as researching past newspaper articles, to find out more about his subject. He particularly got a kick out of discovering his relationship with Ruth, who visited Sherdel in McSherrystown on several occasions.
“He interacted with so many of the greats in the sport,” Coulson said. “And a lot of them would visit him, including Babe Ruth. It’s amazing that this small town, McSherrystown, is where all of these big-name celebrities visited.”
Looking for another hall of fame: For all of Sherdel’s accolades, the southpaw remains one of the most notable former Cardinals not yet included in the team’s hall of fame. He’s fifth all-time in team wins after Adam Wainwright passed him this season and among the team's top-10 in nearly every other important category.
To the organization’s defense, the team’s hall of fame started just a few years ago in 2014.
“Willie is in the Adams County Hall of Fame as well as the (Pennsylvania) Sports Hall of Fame,” Coulson said. “So this (the York Area Sports Hall of Fame) is his third one, but we’re still trying to get him into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.