SABR

Dick Stuart

This article was written by Jan Finkel.

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.” A group of fans with a literary bent and a special fondness for Alexandre Dumas christened him “The Man With the Iron Glove.”

As a first baseman Stuart led his league in errors seven straight years, usually by a wide margin. Playing in only 64 games his rookie year (1958), he managed to commit 16 miscues. Given that he played with one of the great keystone combinations of all time in Dick Groat and Bill Mazeroski, one can only wonder how many double plays they might have turned with any other first baseman. Stuart led the American League in 1963 with 29 errors, a number made uglier by the fact that the runner-up committed only 12. (For the record, future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda led the National League with 21, still far behind Stuart.) Stuart once received a standing ovation for catching a hot dog wrapper on the fly.

In fairness, he did one thing well with a ball in his hands. He had a terrific kind of halfway behind-the-back toss to the mound to end the inning, delivered in quasi-contemptuous fashion and proving that he could master a skill if he put his mind to it. Life was never dull with Stuart, on the bases or in the field.

A person this annoying—not to mention this destructive—has to do something well to stick around, and Stuart did. Playing among contemporaries like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Eddie Mathews, 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.

And he did it all, the good and the bad, with a wink and a twinkle in his eye—but not without a hint of sadness, perhaps the sadness of someone who sees the joke. An anecdote, possibly apocryphal, illustrates the point. The scene could play out in several ways, but it shows that Stuart was more quick-witted than people assumed. Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh summoned him to his office to discuss a misplay of the day before. Stuart sauntered in, calling Murtaugh by his first name. Exploding at Stuart’s familiarity, Murtaugh said that players were to call him Manager or Skip or Mr. Murtaugh, finishing his lecture with “You’re nothing! Remember that! I’m mister and you’re nothing!” Waiting for his point to sink in, Murtaugh said, “Who am I?’’ Stuart answered, “I guess that you’re the manager of nothing.”1

The quintessential nonconformist in an era that demanded conformity, Stuart often had a hard time of it with teammates, opponents, and many fans who didn’t think he took the game or anything else seriously enough. To get a glimpse of Stuart’s penchant for individuality one had only to walk down Grant Street in Pittsburgh to the Carlton House Hotel, where the Pirates gathered to take the bus to the airport. Bunched together around their Samsonite luggage would be the Bucs—Groat, Mazeroski, Skinner, Virdon, Law, Friend, Face, Hoak, even Clemente—a few smoking, all chatting among themselves, wearing dark suits or sport coats with starched white (or the occasional blue or striped) shirts and dark solid or conservatively patterned ties. Off a fair bit to the side would be Stuart, pure Hollywood, in a white suit with a black shirt open at least three buttons down, shades, maybe combing his hair, a cigar or cigarette at the ready. Alone, that’s how the scene struck an outsider.

The future slugger was born Richard Lee Stuart on November 7, 1932, in San Francisco of Scots-Irish descent to Roy Tresmour Stuart, an electrical engineer for Pacific Utility, and the former Phyllis Dickerson, who worked in a grocery store.2 He graduated from Sequoia High School, where he played basketball and baseball, in Redwood City in 1951. Soon after graduation, Bob Fontaine of the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent.

Stuart’s start with Modesto in the Class C California League wasn’t auspicious—a .229 average with 4 home runs and 31 RBIs in 66 games. His work in the outfield was even less impressive, nine errors against 91 putouts and seven assists. He matured enough over the offseason to tear up the Pioneer League (Class C) at Billings, Montana in 1952, hitting .313 and leading the league in homers (31), RBIs (121), runs (115), hits in a four-way tie (161), and total bases (292). Not so impressively, he struck out 99 times.

Shortly after the season ended and just five days before his 20th birthday Stuart married Diane Mellen. They had a daughter, Debbie Lea, but the marriage ended in divorce a few years later.

Just when the right-handed Stuart seemed to be hitting his stride, and his full growth of 6-feet-4 and 210 pounds, Uncle Sam came calling, and he spent the 1953 and 1954 seasons in the peacetime Army—at Fort Lewis, Washington (26 home runs), and Fort Ord, California (24 homers). Coming out of the service in 1955, he might have been a bit rusty or overmatched; short stints in New Orleans (Double-a Southern Association) and Mexico City (Double-A Mexican League) yielded a combined 10 hits in 57 at-bats, a home run, 7 RBIs, and 18 strikeouts, garnering Stuart a demotion back to Billings, where in just 101 games he hit .309, led the league with 32 round-trippers and in slugging at .650, drove in 104 runs, and fanned 109 times. The pattern for Stuart was clear: home run or strikeout, all or nothing, and he was perfectly happy even if no one else was.

Stuart’s work in Billings got him a promotion to Class A Lincoln in the Western League. It was a blessing or a curse, depending on who was looking at it.

For the third time in his career Stuart 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 topped the league in slugging at .736 while accumulating 385 total bases and 158 runs driven in. He also set another league record that’s never been broken, striking out 171 times, a number that becomes particularly ugly when set against his 156 hits. In addition, playing the outfield and first base (where he was moved for the first time in his professional career because he was such a liability as an outfielder), he committed 30 errors for an abysmal .936 fielding percentage. To make matters worse, Stuart’s homers failed to earn him a call-up to the majors. Stuart maintained that the home runs worked against him, that the number didn’t look real and that he’d have been better off with 30 to 40 bombs. It seems more likely that his terrible fielding, his all-or-nothing approach to hitting, and his attitude kept him down.3 Whatever the reason, Stuart knew what put his name out front: For the rest of his life he signed all autographs “Dick Stuart 66.”

The Pirates tried moving Stuart 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, as he evenly split 46 games in the two cities with a combined 14 homers and 38 RBIs for a .222 average to go with 63 strikeouts. Back to Lincoln went Stuart, where he played 97 games, hitting .264 with 117 strikeouts to go with 31 homers and 84 RBIs. Stuart did one thing to help himself. He played for Frank Oceak’s Santiago team in the Dominican Republic Winter League, where he came under the wise tutelage of George Sisler, who helped him reduce his strikeouts and improve his fielding.

His marriage to Diane having dissolved and now a bachelor, Stuart moved to Salt Lake City in the newly classed Triple-A Pacific Coast League for the 1958 season. Sisler’s instruction began to pay off as Stuart struck out just 76 times in 80 games. He didn’t lose his hitting stroke, going .311 with 98 hits, 31 homers, and 82 RBIs. Playing exclusively at first base, he even brought his fielding percentage up to .986. He also found time to marry Lois Morano on May 31; they would have two sons, Richard Lee Jr. and Robert Lance.

The Pirates, seeing his numbers and perhaps thinking marriage might have matured him, brought Stuart to the majors in July. Their plan was to make him the regular first baseman, replacing the platoon of Ted Kluszewski and R C Stevens. He made his debut on July 10 against left-hander Taylor Phillips and got his first hit, a home run, a three-run shot off reliever Don Elston in the ninth inning of an 8-7 loss to the Cubs in Chicago. He got his second hit the next day, a grand slam off Moe Drabowsky in the fifth, as the Pirates beat the Cubs 7-2. After a month Stuart became Kluszewski’s platoon partner at first but earned some starts against right-handers. The year was a mixed bag, as Stuart hit .268 while homering 16 times and driving in 48 runs in just 64 games, occasionally being lifted for a pinch-runner or to allow Stevens to finish at first base. On the flip side, he tied Rookie of the Year Orlando Cepeda (who needed 147 games) with 16 errors to lead the league.

Stuart had nothing like a sophomore slump in 1959; in just 397 at-bats he hit .297 with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs. He was in the majors to stay, albeit as part of a platoon, getting all of the starts against southpaws and splitting starts against right-handers with lefty swingers Kluszewski and winter waiver pickup Rocky Nelson until Big Klu was traded to the White Sox for their pennant run. In addition, he got something of a promotion. Murtaugh had batted Stuart third in 1958 but moved him to the cleanup spot in 1959, where he stayed for the rest of his tenure in Pittsburgh. The Pirates, for their part, slipped from their second-place finish of 1958, falling to 78-76 and fourth place.

Nobody needs to be reminded about 1960, that magic year. The Pirates win the pennant! The Pirates win the World Series—over the aristocratic, mighty New York Yankees! Stuart contributed with a pair of huge games in June: 5-for-6 in game one of a doubleheader on the 12th in St. Louis with two homers and five RBIs in a 15-3 romp; 4-for-5 against the Giants in the nightcap of a doubleheader on the 30th with three homers and seven RBIs, helping the Pirates win 11-6. Nevertheless, it was something of a down year for Stuart. His average fell to .260, his home runs to 23, with just 48 runs scored. He drove in 83 runs, but the number has a hollow ring to it. The Series wasn’t much for Stuart, either, with three singles in 20 trips in five games with Nelson playing first base when Yankees right-hander Bob Turley started Games Two and Seven. However, Stuart was in the on-deck circle waiting to pinch-hit for Harvey Haddix when Bill Mazeroski supposedly made Mickey Mantle cry and became Pittsburgh’s greatest hero since the French and Indian Wars. Stuart was dreaming of being the hero but wound up jumping up and down with everybody else.

Stuart had his first breakout year in 1961, with career-high batting and slugging averages of .301 and .581 to go with 35 homers and 117 RBIs. He made the All-Star team, playing in both games that year and contributing a double in the first. Unfortunately for the Pirates, only Stuart and Roberto Clemente, who hit .351 to earn his first batting title, improved on their performances of 1960. Fresh off their supposed upset of the Yankees, the rest of the Pirates fell flat and finished sixth with a mark of 75-79; it was little comfort that they outscored their opponents. Although Stuart led the league with 121 strikeouts, life looked good, so good that he decided to tweak the noses of the boobirds by having bumper stickers printed saying “Don’t boo Stu in ’62.” How could he not feel good about himself? After all, several people noted seriously that he seemed better in the field. Not believing everything said about him, Stuart observed, “Your fielding improves when you hit 35 home runs.” He also knew the significance of his fine season. Asked if he thought he could hit 61 homers, as had Roger Maris in 1961, Stuart answered, “You have to understand that Maris has that short right field in Yankee Stadium, whereas it’s a cab ride to the scoreboard in Forbes Field.”

Optimism and bumper stickers aside, the 1962 season was an unmitigated disaster for Stuart, made more obvious as the Pirates improved to 93-68 as nearly everybody emerged from the slump of 1961. Stuart reached career lows, for a full season, in almost every offensive category: 114 games (only 100 started at first base), 90 hits, 11 doubles, 16 homers, 64 RBIs, .228 average, .286 on-base percentage, and .398 slugging percentage. And all of this came about in an expansion season, diluted pitching and all, engendered by the birth of the Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros) and the New York Mets (losers of 120 games). It got so bad that Stuart had another set of bumper stickers printed: “Don’t boo Stu. He’s due.” It never happened. By August Murtaugh was playing the young Donn Clendenon at first. The move was little help defensively, as Clendenon went on to lead National League first basemen in errors in three different seasons. At season’s end, Stuart and the Pirates had come to the end of the road, and Stuart had still another set of bumper stickers printed: “Free in ’63!” That last one came true. On November 20 the Pirates traded Stuart and pitcher Jack Lamabe to the Red Sox for catcher Jim Pagliaroni and pitcher Don Schwall.

Going to Boston was good for both Stuart 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 (second behind Harmon Killebrew’s 45). 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. According to Retrosheet, among American League first basemen he ranked first in games (155), games started (155), complete games (143), innings (1376⅓), putouts (1207), and assists (134). He missed the top only in double plays with a mere 100. It looks like a terrific year, maybe even worthy of a Gold Glove, until one sees 29 errors and a .979 fielding percentage. The errors are the most by any first baseman since the shortened 1919 season, when Harry Heilmann booted 31. The fielding percentage was the lowest by an American League first baseman since Red Kress managed a mere .978 in 1933. (It wasn’t Stuart’s worst, though; his fielding percentage with the Pirates in 1959 was .976, the NL’s lowest since Fred Luderus’s .975 performance in 1914.) Particularly interesting about the number of errors is that Stuart was error-free for the first 26 games of the season (from April 9 against the Angels until the first game of a doubleheader against the Angels on May 15). Proving the error in the first game was no fluke, he committed his second one in the nightcap.

Stuart 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 Stuart 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. Stuart actually took Radatz’s suggestion to heart and got a vanity plate. Stuart 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. Radatz told one particularly good story about the two strong-willed individuals: “When John told us one day there were going to be fines for violating curfew—500 bucks for first offense, 1,000 for a second—Stuart sat in the back of the clubhouse, and when Pesky asked if there were any questions, Stuart said, ‘John, is this tax-deductible?’ ”4

To the surprise of no one, the Red Sox traded Stuart to the Phillies for pitcher Dennis Bennett on November 29. Life in Philadelphia was hardly pleasant. Stuart contributed 28 home runs and drove in 95 runs, but those feats were negated by a .234 average and .287 on-base percentage. In addition, Phillies manager Gene Mauch, who had started eight different players at first the year before, had hoped Stuart would solidify the position. That didn’t happen although for the first time in eight seasons he didn’t lead the league in errors. After the season the Phillies worked out a trade with the Cardinals to get first baseman Bill White.

On February 22, 1966, the Phillies traded Stuart to the Mets for Jimmie Schaffer, Bobby Klaus, and Wayne Graham. Only weak-hitting catcher Schaffer played in the majors after the trade. In 31 games for the Mets Stuart hit a miserable .218 with 4 homers, 13 RBIs, and 26 strikeouts. The Mets twice moved Ed Kranepool into a left-field platoon with Ron Swoboda so Stuart could play first every day, but the scheme didn’t work out. The Mets released Stuart on June 15, and he signed on with the Dodgers on July 5. Manager Walter Alston gave him a shot as his full-time first baseman, but Stuart didn’t hit enough to keep Wes Parker on the bench. He batted .264 for the Dodgers, hit three out of the park, drove in nine, and got into two games as Alston’s first pinch-hitter against southpaw Dave McNally in the World Series (0-for-2), which the Baltimore Orioles won in a humiliating four-game sweep that included shutouts in the last three games. The Dodgers released Stuart on November 21.

With nobody showing interest in him, Stuart moved on to Japan, signing with the Taiyo Whales. He was adequate in 1967, hitting .280 with 33 homers and 79 RBIs while leading the league with 100 strikeouts. The next season was a flameout with a .217 average, 16 home runs, and 40 RBIs in 83 games.

Back in the United States, Stuart had one last fling, spending spring training in 1969 with the California Angels on a minor-league contract, signing with them on April 7 and starting on Opening Day on the 8th. Playing in a strict platoon with Roger Repoz, he could muster only a .157 average, four RBIs, and his last home run, a solo shot off Tommy John of the White Sox on April 14. The homer was Stuart’s first hit of the season, which seemed fitting since his first major-league hit in 1958 was a home run. The Angels released Stuart on June 3, a week after manager Bill Rigney was fired.

Finished as a major leaguer, Stuart caught on with the Giants’ Triple-A club in Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League. Appearing in 74 games, he hit .244 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs, showing he still had some power, but one must guess that 22 errors and a .966 fielding percentage were intolerable.

For his ten-year career Dick Stuart hit a respectable .264, belted 228 home runs, drove in 743 runs, and had a solid .489 slugging percentage. He hurt himself with 957 strikeouts against only 301 walks and a meager .316 on-base percentage. 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.

Life after baseball went on for Stuart. He and Lois were divorced in Stamford, Connecticut, on June 30, 1971.5 On the other hand, he had considerable success in finance, but felt compelled to joke about it at an affair in his honor in 1981: “I’m in the finance business in New York City. I can’t tell you its name; I’m trying to duck my ex-wife.”6 Presumably, not everybody laughed.

Dick Stuart died of cancer in Redwood City on December 15, 2002, survived by his daughter, Debbie, sons Richard Jr. and Robert, and a brother, Daryl. His remains were cremated.

The life and career of Dick Stuart strike one as a “What If?” story. What if he hadn’t been obsessed with the home run? What if he had learned bat control and plate discipline? What if he had taken the time to develop the skills required of a complete player? What if he had taken better care of himself? Golf and water skiing are fine, but they don’t offset late nights. What if he hadn’t taken himself so seriously? What if he had taken himself and life more seriously? The last two questions aren’t necessarily contradictory. What if others besides Arnold Hano had been perceptive enough to see the real Dick Stuart? “You listen to this Dick Stuart [who had been comparing himself—and not favorably—to Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, and Frank Howard], and you wonder why nobody has ever suggested he is an introspective person, for all his popping off, a man with the usual self-doubts.”7 Dick Stuart won’t have the infamous asterisk beside his name and numbers in any record books, but a question mark might not be out of place.

 

This biography is included in the book "Sweet '60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates" (SABR, 2013), edited by Clifton Blue Parker and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Clem Comly, Leonard Levin, and Bill Nowlin, for their fact-checking, close reading, and editing. They all made this piece better.

 

Sources

Some details are personal recollections of the author.

The following list is a sampling of available materials and is in no way complete. For an exhaustive list see The Baseball Index (TBI) (baseballindex.org), easily accessible at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website (sabr.org). Also well worth a visit is Paper of Record (paperofrecord.hypernet.ca) with its complete collection of The Sporting News. Helpful, too, is Newspaper Archive (newspaperarchive.com).

Statistics are from Baseball-Reference, Retrosheet, Daguerreotypes, and The All-Time Japanese Baseball Register.

Various articles and clippings from Stuart’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Carlos Bauer, The All-Time Japanese Baseball Register: The Complete Statistical Record of All the Great Japanese & American Players (San Diego and San Marino: Baseball Press Books, 2000).

Jimmy Breslin, “Dick Stuart: Pittsburgh’s Problem and Baseball’s Dilemma.” True. September 1959: 40-43, 68, 72-75.

Myron Cope, “Irrepressible Egotist.” Saturday Evening Post. April 28, 1962: 65-66, 68.

Rick Cushing, 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates Day by Day: A Special Season, An Extraordinary World Series (Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc., 2010).

Ernest J. Green, “Minor League Big Guns.” Baseball Research Journal. 24 (1995): 53-57.

Dick Groat, The World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates (New York: Coward-McCann, 1961).

Arnold Hano, “Dick Stuart: Man and Showman.” Sport. June 1964. 56-63.

Mark Harris, “The Man Who Hits Too Many Home Runs.” Life. September 2, 1957: 85-86, 89-90, 92, 97.

Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. 3rd ed. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc., 2007).

Kerry Keene, 1960: The Last Pure Season (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, 2000).

Anne Madarasz, “Beat ’Em Bucs: The Story of the 1960 Pirates.” Western Pennsylvania History. Fall 2010. 20-26.

David Maranis, Clemente: The Pride and Passion of Baseball’s Last Hero (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).

John Moody, Kiss It Good-Bye: The Mystery, the Mormon, and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirate. (Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2010).

Stan Musial, with Bob Broeg, “Stan Musial Rates the Big-Leaguers.” Sport. June 1964. 20-23, 86-88.

Jim O’Brien, Fantasy Camp: Living the Dream with Maz and the ’60 Bucs (Pittsburgh: James P. O’Brien, Pub., 2000).

_____. Maz and the ’60 Bucs: When Pittsburgh and its Pirates Went All the Way (Pittsburgh: James P. O’Brien, 1993).

_____. We Had ’Em All the Way: Bob Prince and his Pittsburgh Pirates. (Pittsburgh: James P. O’Brien-Pub., 1998).

Jim Reisler, The Best Game Ever: Pirates vs. Yankees October 13, 1960 (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007).

George R. Skornickel, Beat ’Em Bucs: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates (Baltimore: Publish America, 2010).

Luther W. Spoehr, “Stuart, Richard Lee, ‘Dick,’ ‘Stu,’ ‘Dr. Strangeglove.’” In David L. Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball. Revised and expanded edition. Vol. 3 (Q-Z) (Westport, Connecticut, and London: Greenwood Press, 2000): 1497-1499.

  • 1. Fred Katz, “The Nothing Manager,” Sport (May 1968), 14.
  • 2. 1930 United States Federal Census. Cf. Arnold Hano, “Dick Stuart: Man and Showman,” Sport (June 1964), 60: “He was born Richard Lee Stuart in tiny San Carlos, California, 20 miles below San Francisco, the son of a dry cleaner.” All other sources say he was born in San Francisco. The 1930 Census clearly identifies his father as Roy Tresmour Stuart; it’s possible that he lost his job as an electrical engineer during the Great Depression and was a dry cleaner in 1932.
  • 3. For discussion see Mark Harris, “The Man Who Hits Too Many Home Runs,” Life (September 2, 1957): 85-86, 89-90, 92, 97; and Jimmy Breslin, “Dick Stuart: Pittsburgh Problem and Baseball’s Dilemma,” True (September 1959): 40-43, 68, 72-75.
  • 4. Michael J. Bailey, “Dick Stuart, at 70; Sox Slugger dubbed ‘Dr. Strangeglove,’” Boston Globe, December 20, 2002.
  • 5. John Gearan, “If He’d Had a Glove on, They’d Have Known Him Instantly.” Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram, January 23, 1981. Stuart told Gearan that he and Lois had divorced in 1967, remarried in 1970, and divorced ‘”last year [1980] . . . just before Christmas.’” The date of June 30, 1971, is from the Connecticut Divorce Index at Ancestry.com.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Hano, 63.
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