Book review: Rick Dempsey's Caught Stealing

Mitchell Layton

A review of a new Orioles book, Rick Dempsey's Caught Stealing

Rick Dempsey's Caught Stealing: Unbelievable Stories From a Lifetime of Baseball is the newest Orioles-themed book on the shelves. Written by Orioles fan Johnathon Schaech (who happened to star in That Thing You Do, one of the best movies you can hope to find when flipping through cable on a lazy weekend), the book is broken into 12 chapters. Each chapter is devoted to a different time in Orioles legend Rick Dempsey's life. Together the chapters put together a nice chronology of Dempsey's career, but each one is self contained enough that it could act as a short story and you wouldn't feel like you are missing anything.

The book starts off with the tale of Dempsey's childhood in Southern California, specifically his youth baseball team that was good enough to travel to Pennsylvania for the Pony League World Series. The start of this chapter was a little slow, but it ends with a fantastic and somewhat unbelievable story that I won't spoil for you.

From there the book begins chronicling Dempsey's professional baseball career, and this is where the it really takes off. For those of us who are too young to really remember Dempsey playing, or even for the older folks who may have trouble remembering Dempsey as anything other than the loveable but somewhat blundering television personality, these chapters were a great lesson in the man that Dempsey was back when he played ball. Small for his position on the field, Dempsey made up for with attitude. I have hard time imagining Dempsey getting mean or fighting, but he did his share back then. I especially enjoyed a story from when he was on the Yankees that started with him getting a fork to the chest and ended with Bobby Murcer getting a broken finger.

The chapters that chronicled Dempsey's years with the Orioles were, to me, the least interesting (although certainly not bad). Dempsey's acclimation to the team was fun to read, but the focus on the 1979 and 1983 World Series didn't provide much new information. That's probably more a result of me hearing about those two events more times than I can count throughout my life. If I hadn't followed the Orioles my whole life I might have felt differently, but it also seems to me like most of the people who would be interested in this book are Orioles fans. I did really enjoy reading about the relationship between Dempsey and manager Earl Weaver, it was new to me and by turns entertaining and touching.

There was just one section of the book that really stood out to me as poor, and it only lasted about a page. This book is about Rick Dempsey's life and career, and for the most part was written from that perspective. But there is one portion of one chapter where the author goes on what feels like a personal rant about players these days and how millionaires are babied and not as tough as the old school guys who played just for the love of the game. It took me out of the spirit of the book, but thankfully was over rather quickly.

Dempsey's time with the Dodgers is also covered with the books, and was another unfamiliar part of his life that I enjoyed learning about.

Overall, I'd say the book is worth the effort. It's only about 130 pages long and I was finished it in an evening. It provides new context for a player I barely remember seeing play, and provides a number of entertaining stories along the way.  One thing I know after reading it is that while I wouldn't want Rick Dempsey managing my baseball team, and I think his on-air baseball analysis often borders on illogical, he's an easy guy to root for and if I had been a fan in the 70s and early 80s, he might have been my favorite.

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