William S. Stevens, 60, of Narberth, an attorney, educator, sportsman, and writer who penned a celebrated article about the relationship between baseball and common law, died Dec. 3 of a heart attack in his apartment in Anchorage, Alaska, where he was working.
Mr. Stevens was a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975 when he wrote a humorous, unsigned "aside" - "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule" - for Penn's law review.
The infield-fly rule was adopted in the 1890s to prevent infielders from intentionally misplaying a fly ball in hopes of recording a double play. Mr. Stevens wrote that the rule was refined over time as new problems were addressed, just as common law uses judicial decisions and legislation to make legal remedies for new situations.
He parodied the usual law-review scholarly treatises by including voluminous footnotes, including one for the article's first word:
. Despite spoofing law reviews, the article had a serious point and became very popular in legal circles.
"I learned more about common law from the article than I did in three years of law," said Ed Ellis, a friend of Mr. Stevens who is a partner with Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads in Philadelphia.
"It has given me far more than the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol said I should get. With recent flurries of interest in the piece, I am probably up to 21 minutes and 15 seconds," Mr. Stevens told Robert M. Jarvis, a law professor who wrote an article about "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule" in 2002 in the journal Entertainment and Sports Lawyer.
After graduating cum laude from Penn Law School, Mr. Stevens was an associate with Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis. He then had a private practice, and was counsel for several area companies before becoming assistant director of the American Law Institute-American Bar Association, Continuing Professional Education in Philadelphia in 1990. He set up educational seminars all over the country for lawyers, and produced a quarterly audiotape magazine.
Mr. Stevens also wrote articles and served on the editorial board of the Philadelphia Lawyer, the magazine of the Philadelphia Bar Association. He was a funny, talented writer, his brother Jay said.
In a 1992 letter to the editor, Mr. Stevens wrote, "The Inquirer has placed itself in the same class as The New York Times in yet another category: Most excess ink on the hands of its readers. Perhaps it is a sign of divine retribution for the decision to move the printing plant to the suburbs."
In September, Mr. Stevens retired from the American Law Institute and was on a year-long assignment as acting continuing education director of the Alaska Bar Association.
His famous law-review article was not included on his resume.
"My ego is simultaneously flattered and bruised by the notion that something I cranked out more than 25 years ago would prove to be the highlight of my professional and academic career," Mr. Stevens told Jarvis.
Growing up in northern New Jersey, Mr. Stevens could read books before he was 5, his brother said. After graduating from Pingry School in Martinsville, N.J., Mr. Stevens earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University. Before attending law school, he served in the Navy aboard the destroyer USS Hawkins along the Eastern seaboard.
Mr. Stevens played golf and ice hockey and enjoyed annual ski vacations out West with his brother and friends. He played Little League baseball and later played in softball leagues, and played hardball with friends at Haverford College.
He was an avid Phillies fan and had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball, his brother said. In an article about career fantasies, Mr. Stevens was photographed for the cover of the Philadelphia Lawyer, on the Phillies' pitching mound in a pinstripe suit.
He was an enthusiastic photographer, and catalogued thousands of photos of his travels and of family and friends.
In addition to his brother, Mr. Stevens is survived by his father, Harry J. Stevens Jr., sisters Susan Sullivan and Joan Stevens, two nephews and a niece.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.