After Dick Stuart hit 66 home runs and drove in 171 runs for Lincoln Chiefs in the “A” Western League in 1956, he began to add the digits “66” to every autograph. But by the time Stuart was promoted to the Hollywood Stars in 1957, he always signed with a five-point star above his name. What no one could figure out, then or now, is whether the star reflected Stuart’s team or his image of himself.
As Stuart immodestly said after his record breaking season:
If the pitching was better, I would have hit 90 home runs. I had to chase a lot of bad balls to get those 66 homers.
By 1957, the Pirates minor league system was starting to produce high quality prospects. Stuart was considered among the brightest. In his typically brash manner, when he arrived in Hollywood awash in publicity Stuart immediately announced that he would lead the league in homers and RBIs.
At the season’s start, it looked like Stuart would make good on his promise. Playing—of all places—in right field, Stuart took the collar in the season opener of a day-night double header in San Diego. Then, in the night cap, Stuart blasted two homers, one estimated to travel 500 feet which led the Stars to a 14-1 victory. Over the next two games, Stuart smashed three more. But soon after Stuart’s bubble burst. He stopped hitting homers; in fact, he quit hitting singles,too. To complicate matters, Stuart’s fielding—“Dr. Strangeglove”—was atrocious.
By mid-May, Stuart was on his way back to Lincoln via the Atlanta Crackers. Paul Pettit, who after arm trouble had re-invented himself as an outfielder, took Stuart’s place in right and remained there for the season’s balance.
As Hollywood manager Clyde King said to Stuart on his way out the door: “You’re losing me more games with balls hit through your legs than your winning me with home runs.”
Stuart’s Hollywood line: AB 72; BA .236; HR 6; RBI 17
No matter where his managers placed him, and they tried the corner outfield slots as well as first and third base, Stuart couldn’t field. Writing for Sport Magazine in 1962, Larry Merchant summarized Stuart’s glove skills (or, better said, lack of glove skills):
In the outfield, his indifference bordered on contempt. At first base, he resembled a dinosaur egg. Stuart’s trouble—it is theorized—is that he hates all pitchers including his own.
During his brief 13 game stint with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern League, Stuart fielded .889.
By 1958, Stuart was in the big leagues to stay first with the Pittsburgh Pirates, then the Boston Red Sox followed by cameos with the Phillies, Mets, Dodgers and Angeles. His major league tenure was full of ups and downs.
Along his way Stuart alienated the Pirates’ brass at every stop—Branch Rickey, Bobby Bragan, coach Dick Sisler and King.
In my next blog, I’ll look at the most famous fielding play that Stuart was ever involved in—while he was sitting on the bench during the 1960 Pirates-New York Yankees seventh game.