Dick Groat, Hoops Whiz turned Star Shortstop, dies at age 92
He was an All-American basketball player with Duke in the early 1950s, setting an NCAA single-season scoring record. He went on to play professional basketball. But Dick Groat was best known as one of the most important shortstops of his time in Major League Baseball.
“I am remembered as a baseball player and not for the sport I played best,” Groat once said. “North Carolina is the only place where I’m still remembered as a basketball player.”
“I didn’t have speed, strength, or the biggest arm,” he told Sports Illustrated. “Baseball was work, every day.”
Groat, who died in a Pittsburgh hospital on Thursday at age 92, did an admirable job through 14 major league seasons. He helped lead the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates to their first World Series championship in 35 years, while winning the National League batting championship and the Most Valuable Player Award. He anchored the infield for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 when they won the World Series. And he was a five-time All-Star.
Groat had no reach at shortstop, but he was adept at positioning and had quick hands, making an excellent double play combination for the Pirates with second baseman Bill Mazeroski, a future Hall of Famer.
Mazeroski hit the memorable 1960 World Series-winning home run off of the Yankees’ Ralph Terry. But Groat, a right-handed batter who was adept at stroking the ball to the opposing field on the hit and run and rarely struck out, won the batting title with a .325 average. He was the smooth-fielding captain of the Pirates, whose lineup also included Roberto Clemente and Bill Virdon in the outfield and power-hitter Dick Stuart on first base.
“He plays great and makes it look easy,” Danny Murtaugh, the manager of the 1960 Pirates, told Baseball Digest. “Then he comes back and plops down in the dugout like nothing happened.”
Richard Morrow Groat was born on November 4, 1930 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Swissvale, near Pittsburgh. He was a high school star in baseball and basketball, which he started playing at the age of 5.
In basketball, as a 5-foot-11-inch, 180-pound guard at Duke, Groat didn’t hesitate to drive through the court. He hit jump shots and was an excellent playmaker. A two-time all-American, he set an NCAA major-college single-season scoring record with 831 points as a junior in the 1950–51 season. He averaged 23 points per game over his three seasons with Duke.
Playing shortstop, he led Duke to his first College Baseball World Series appearance, in June 1952, after which he joined the Pirates, who were in the middle of a youth movement orchestrated by their general manager, Branch Rickey, who moved out of the Brooklyn came to Pittsburgh. evaders.
While in high school, Groat admired Alvin Dark, the shortstop for the Boston Braves who won a pennant in 1948. In Groat’s rookie season, Dark, playing for the New York Giants, gave him tips to keep the doubles running.
Groat batted .284 for the 1952 Pirates, then joined the NBA’s Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons), who had selected him as a first-round draft pick. He averaged 11.9 points per game in the 1952–53 season, but played in only 26 games as he commuted to the Duke campus to complete his degree.
After Groat spent two years in the military and spent part of that time playing military basketball, Rickey told him he would have to choose between baseball and basketball.
“I was heartbroken,” Groat said. “Basketball was my first love.”
But he returned to the Pirates in 1955 and flourished as they became a championship team five years later.
Groat batted .319 in 1963 when he was traded to the Cardinals, and was second to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax for most valuable player.
With a team consisting of Julian Javier second, Bill White first, Ken Boyer third, Lou Brock and Curt Flood in the outfield, Tim McCarver catcher and Bob Gibson brilliant pitcher, the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the World Series from 1964.
McCarver once recalled that Groat was a team leader, but also “an adversary.”
“He was a formidable competitor,” he told Danny Peary in the oral history “We Played the Game.” (1994). “You had to play it his way, ‘the right way’.”
After three years in St. Louis, Groat played for the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants, before retiring after the 1967 season with a batting average of .286 and 2,138 hits.
He was a longtime radio analyst for the University of Pittsburgh basketball games and founder and owner of Champion Lakes Golf Club in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
Last Tuesday, Groat was at his home in Edgewood, Pa., a Pittsburgh suburb, when former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster Steve Blass showed up on his doorstep with a camera crew. They informed Groat that he had been elected to the Pirates Hall of Fame and conducted an impromptu interview.
Two days later, on his way to an interview broadcast for a Pirates game, Groat suffered a stroke, his daughter, Allison DeStefano, said. He died Thursday, she said.
In addition to Mrs. DeStefano, who manages the Champion Lakes club, Groat is survived by two more daughters, Tracey Goetz and Carol Ann Groat; six grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. His wife, Barbara (Womble) Groat, died in 1990.
When Groat focused on major league baseball, leaving behind the then-struggling National Basketball Association, he opted for the preeminent American sport of his day and the chance for a good paycheck. But he also had a personal consideration.
“I confess that one of the reasons I chose baseball over basketball was that my dad didn’t like basketball,” he said in “We Played the Game.”
“He loved baseball,” Groat added. “He threw his arm out when I was a boy, and he dreamed of a son becoming a major league player.”
Alex Traub reporting contributed.