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William Mead, journalist and baseball writer, dies at 83

William B. Mead.
William B. Mead. (Family Photo)
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William B. Mead, a journalist and baseball writer whose subjects included the hapless St. Louis Browns, their single wartime championship season and a "New York Yankees Hater's Handbook," died Dec. 14 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 83.

The cause was a transected aorta, said a grandson, Brett Mead.

Mr. Mead, who held reporting jobs with United Press International and Money magazine early in his career, wrote seven books on baseball and co-wrote volumes on money management, tax savings and trivia.

His first and possibly best-known book was published in 1978, "Even the Browns: The Zany, True Story of Baseball in the Early Forties." Sports Illustrated called it "marvelous, informative and fun to read." Historically, the Browns had been considered one of Major League Baseball's worst teams. That changed during World War II.

"The Browns entered the 1940s bereft of talent, money, fans and hope," Mr. Mead wrote. "As the war wore on, the American League was sucked dry of talent by the military draft. But the Browns improved. Finally in 1944, they surfaced like an ugly stump in a draining lake."

They had nine players 34 years old or older, and their infield was made up entirely of men classified as 4-F, still fit to play baseball but not fit enough to serve in the military. They faced their crosstown rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the World Series that year after winning their only American League championship. The Cardinals won the same-city faceoff, sometimes known as the "Trolley Series," in six games. Ten years later, the Browns moved east and became the Baltimore Orioles.

In Baltimore, Mr. Mead wrote in the New York Times, the Orioles went "out of their way to deny their heritage."

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They did not always succeed. In 1988, the Orioles began the season with a 21-game losing streak. To Mr. Mead, a St. Louis native living in Maryland, it was a familiar scenario.

"I know them," he wrote in the Times. "I grew up with their ancestors, and I recognize the style of play. These guys are the St. Louis Browns."

William Bowmar Mead was born April 1, 1934. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1955 and then spent two years in the Army. In 1956, he married Jennifer Hilton, an artist. Survivors include his wife and a son, Christopher Mead, both of Bethesda; a brother; and three grandchildren. Two children predeceased him, Meghan Mead in 1989 and Andrew Mead in 2015.

In 1993, Mr. Mead was co-author with Paul Dickson of "The Presidents' Game," which explored links between baseball and U.S. presidents beginning with George Washington, who before baseball was invented played catch with his troops at Valley Forge, Pa. Citing the book, The Washington Post once reported that every president since Washington "has associated himself with America's national pastime or its antecedents, such as the British game of 'rounders.' (One exception: diehard croquet fanatic Rutherford B. Hayes)."

Included in "The Presidents' Game" was a trivia contest: "Who was the first and only president to attend a ballgame in the company of royalty?" The former college player, the authors hinted, kept his mitt oiled and ready in an Oval Office drawer. The answer was George H.W. Bush. Queen Elizabeth II was the royal baseball fan.

In February 1983, an excerpt from Mr. Mead's about-to-be-published handbook for Yankees haters was printed in the Times. "The first Yankee haters were New Yorkers. They were fans of the New York Giants," Mr. Mead began his polemic against the now-27-time World Series champion Yankees, who over the years have attracted a national following of die-hard fans and determined haters.

He recounted how a Boston cabdriver, learning that his fare was the owner of the Red Sox, punched the man and knocked him to the ground for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. He told of how the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce once adopted a resolution denouncing the Yankees for "poor sportsmanship" for acquiring too many good players in the middle of the season.

At Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, Orioles public address announcer Rex Barney delighted in delivering fabricated announcements that began, "Will the owner of an automobile bearing the New York license plate . . ." He never got to finish. The announcement was drowned out by a chorus of boos.

To the Yankees' defense came Peter Richmond, a sportswriter for the Miami Herald and a staunch Yankees fan. Quoting from Mr. Mead's handbook, he noted, "Yankee hating is so common that there are people who can't name any other baseball franchise and they still hate the Yankees."

This only demonstrated, Richmond observed, that "any fool can hate the Yankees. Most do."

In addition to baseball books, Mr. Mead wrote with Mike Feinsilber "American Averages: Amazing Facts of Everyday Life," a 1980 collection of statistical trivia, often done in a jesting tone. "The average person's toes curl when he or she is sexually aroused," they wrote. Another tidbit: "Half the people in America are below average."

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