“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1963-1964
DICK STUART

Dick Stuart was fun, as long as you didn’t have to be on the field with him. He ran the bases, head down and looking anywhere except at the third-base coach or the outfield or a teammate who might be able to tell him something, often sending his team out of the inning. As a fielder, suffice it to say that his nickname was “Dr. Strangeglove” and no less an authority than Hank Aaron called him “Stonefingers.”

As a first baseman Dick led his league in errors seven straight years, usually by a wide margin. tuart led the American League in 1963 with 29 errors, a number made uglier by the fact that the runner-up committed only 12. He once received a standing ovation for catching a hot dog wrapper on the fly.

A person this annoying, not to mention this destructive, has to do something well to stick around, and he did. He could hit a baseball farther than just about anybody. True, he didn’t connect as frequently or for as long as they did, but for distance he had few equals and no superiors.

Dick Stuart was born on November 7, 1932, in San Francisco He graduated from Sequoia High School, where he played basketball and baseball, in Redwood City in 1951. Soon after graduation, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent.

His start with Modesto in the Class C California League wasn’t auspicious. He matured enough over the offseason to tear up the Pioneer League (Class C) at Billings, Montana in 1952, but struck out 99 times.

Just when he seemed to be hitting his stride, Uncle Sam came calling, and he spent the 1953 and 1954 seasons in the peacetime Army, at Fort Lewis, Washington, and Fort Ord, California. Coming out of the service in 1955, he might have been a bit rusty or overmatched. He had short stints in New Orleans (Double-a Southern Association) and Mexico City (Double-A Mexican League) with a demotion back to Billings, where he hit .309 and led the league with 32 round-trippers. The pattern for him was clear. It was a home run or strikeout, all or nothing, and he was perfectly happy even if no one else was.

His work in Billings got him a promotion to Class A Lincoln in the Western League. For the third time in his career he spent what amounted to a full season in one place. Each year he led his league in home runs, but he was astounding in 1956. Batting .298, he sent 66 balls out of the park, a league record that was never broken. He also set another league record that’s never been broken, striking out 171 times. In addition, he committed 30 errors for an abysmal .936 fielding percentage. To make matters worse, his homers failed to earn him a call-up to the majors.

The Pirates tried moving Dick up in 1957, to Hollywood in the open-class Pacific Coast League and Atlanta (presumably on loan to the Milwaukee Braves) of the Southern Association, but it didn’t work out. Back to Lincoln he went.

He moved to Salt Lake City in the newly classed Triple-A Pacific Coast League for the 1958 season. The Pirates brought him to the majors in July. The year was a mixed bag, as he hit .268 while homering 16 times and driving in 48 runs in just 64 games. But he tied Orlando Cepeda with 16 errors to lead the league. Dick had nothing like a sophomore slump in 1959. He hit .297 with 27 home runs.

Nobody needs to be reminded about 1960, that magic year. The Pirates oin the World Series, but it was something of a down year for Stuart. His average fell to .260, his home runs to 23

Dick had his first breakout year in 1961, with career-high batting and slugging averages of .301 to go with 35 homers and 117 RBIs. He made the All-Star team, playing in both games that year. But he led the league with 121 strikeouts.

The 1962 season was an unmitigated disaster for Dick. He reached career lows, for a full season, in almost every offensive category. On November 20th the Pirates traded Dick and pitcher Jack Lamabe to the Red Sox for catcher Jim Pagliaroni and pitcher Don Schwall.

Going to Boston was good for both Dick and the Red Sox, as he had the second outstanding offensive season of his career, leading the American League in RBIs (118) while slugging 42 home runs. Apart from the homers and RBIs, he led the league in grounding into double plays (24).

It was in the field, however, that the big guy really left his mark. It looks like a terrific year, until one sees 29 errors and a .979 fielding percentage. He did well in 1964, too, with 33 homers and 114 RBIs to go with his .279 average. He also cut his errors to 24 but still led the American League. For his efforts he was named the first baseman on the "Sporting News’" American League All-Star Team.

But he was wearing out his welcome in Boston, primarily because of his fielding and his constitutional inability to get along with manager Johnny Pesky. As to his fielding, all one needs to know is that Red Sox reliever Dick “The Monster” Radatz suggested that Stuart’s license plate should be E-3. Dick actually took Radatz’s suggestion to heart and got a vanity plate. He seemed to have been put on Earth to bedevil Pesky, a fine ballplayer and hitter, a baseball lifer, a good man, and a universally respected and even loved institution in Boston.

To the surprise of no one, the Red Sox traded Dick to the Phillies for pitcher Dennis Bennett on November 29th.

For his ten-year career Dick Stuart hit a respectable .264, belted 228 home runs, drove in 743 runs. His fielding became the stuff of legend. Given the nicknames he earned, it’s safe to conclude that much of the legend is based in fact.

Dick Stuart died of cancer in Redwood City on December 15, 2002 at age 70.