A debut biography focuses on one of the most successful pitchers in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise.
William Henry Sherdel, or Wee Willie as he came to be nicknamed in the 1920s, may not be a household name among baseball fans today, but when he retired from the Cardinals, he had the fourth most wins of any pitcher in the team’s history. Born in 1896 in south-central Pennsylvania, Sherdel was always obsessed with baseball—he was paid to play for the first time when he was 14 years old, a whopping 25 cents for a game (the two-horse wagon trip to the field in a nearby town cost the same). A natural athlete and high school star—he was originally a catcher—he earned a local reputation and, in 1915, was recruited to play for the Hanover Hornets in the newly minted Blue Ridge League, class D minor league baseball. Coulson painstakingly chronicles Sherdel’s meteoric rise—he had a stellar inaugural year and even led the league with the highest batting average (.368). In 1916, he graduated to class AA ball—just one step below the majors—joining the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1918, Sherdel, only 21, realized his ultimate aspiration, making it to the majors. He signed a contract with the Cardinals, where he would remain for most of his professional career. He established himself as a formidable southpaw and played a major role in the team’s victory over the New York Yankees in the 1926 World Series. In his ambitious work, Coulson combines journalistic thoroughness with an infectious enthusiasm for the subject. He captures not only Sherdel’s athletic success, but also the history of the sport’s development and the nation’s embrace of it. But some of the microscopic details the author provides can be numbing, not only of the pitcher’s career, but also the organizational machinations of the teams for which he played. As well-crafted as it is, this biography won’t likely appeal to a wide audience. But it should be a treat for bookish, die-hard Cardinals fans.
A meticulously researched account of baseball history.