I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from regular contributor Joe Guzzardi on Dick Groat who, like Dave DeBusschere, Danny Ainge, and a few other people listed below was a baseball player who also played basketball. Or was it the other way around?
During last week’s pre-game analysis of the 2K Coaches vs. Cancer basketball tournament featuring the University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh, Bobby Knight provided ESPN’s color commentary.
After reviewing the strengths of the Terps and Panthers, Knight without prodding said about the Panthers’ broadcaster, “The best basketball player in Madison Square Garden is Dick Groat.” When Bobby Knight calls someone the “best basketball player” that’s serious flattery.
While the 70-year-old Knight didn’t say so the 80-year-old Groat, an All-American baseball and basketball player at Duke University, may have been one of his childhood heroes. In 1952, Groat won the U.P.I. National Player of the Year award after averaging more than 25 points per game. On the strength of his collegiate success, Groat was the fourth round draft choice of the Ft. Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons and averaged a respectable 12 points per game during his only season.
Groat is one of twelve athletes who played baseball and basketball professionally. The others are Chuck Connors, Gene Conley, Bill Sharman, Howie Schultz, Ron Reed, Danny Ainge, Frankie Baumholtz, Dave DeBusschere, Mark Hendrickson and Cotton Nash.
But also in 1952, straight off the Duke campus, Groat was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Branch Rickey. As much as the Pittsburgh native loved basketball, Groat’s dream had always been to play for the Pirates. Since summer is baseball season, basketball had to wait.
After a two year stint in the Army, Groat gave up his NBA career to focus on baseball. Gradually, as the Pirates added Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and pitchers Vernon Law, Bob Friend and El Roy Face developed, the Pirates worked their way up the National League standings.
By 1960, their World Series championship year, Groat was the Pirates’ captain, the National League’s batting champion and the Most Valuable Player. Although the Pirates expected to win several more titles, it was not to be. In 1961, the team fell to sixth place 75-79. Although the Pirates rallied to a 93-68 record in 1962, General Manager Joe Brown to the surprise of baseball insiders, traded three of his starting four infielders within the span of a week: first baseman Dick Stuart, third baseman Don Hoak and Groat.
The St. Louis Cardinals sent pitcher Don Cardwell to the Bucs for Groat. The trade favored Pirates. In his first season as a Cardinals, Groat hit .315. And in 1964, he led the Cards to the World Series title. Groat was also a two-time Cardinals’ All Star.
In his four years as a Pirates, Cardwell posted a 33-33 record with a 3.38 ERA.
Groat, who longed to one day manage the Pirates, was so disappointed by the trade that he broke off all ties with the team until 1990, the thirtieth anniversary of the 1960 upset of the New York Yankees.
Today, Groat is a regular around Pittsburgh. An outstanding golfer, an announcer for Pitt basketball and a frequent guest at Pirates’ events who never turns down autograph requests, Groat is an all-around great guy. As Knight called him, “a gentleman”.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org