He arrived in Boston in December of 1962, having just been acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1961 American League Rookie of the Year, Don Schwall.
And in true “Stu” fashion, he was off to Fenway Park for some publicity shots,
dress shoes and all. Above all, Dick Stuart was a character.
By the time he arrived in Boston he was a legendary power hitter and he had clubbed home runs of mythical proportions; from Billings Montana, to Lincoln Nebraska, from Salt Lake City to the Dominican Republic and back to Pueblo Colorado where it is told he hit a home run which measured 610 feet! The interesting aspect of that shot was that it was said to be measured by the opposing pitcher with help from his teammates!
In 1956 while playing for the Lincoln Nebraska Chiefs, a Pirate A ball affiliate, he hit 66, that’s right, 66 home runs. Perhaps even more astounding is that he hit a home run every 7.9 at bats. That’s a Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa cheating on steroids type number.
Sporting the bravado of a young Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) he “held out” for more money as a rookie! Never at a loss for words or an opinion he nearly came to blows with virtually every minor league manager he played for and when he was sent down to the Pacific Coast League out of the 1957 Pirates training camp he took a shot at shortstop Dick Groat on his way out the door, “yea you’ll hit .300 alright, .150 the first half of the season and .150 the second half.” Groat in fact hit .315 for the season while “Stu” slugged 45 homers for three minor league teams.
By 1960, Dick Groat was the MVP and Dick Stuart was his first baseman. Stuart was on deck when Bill Mazeroski hit his home run to clinch the 1960 World Series. In 1961 Stuart hit 35 homers and knocked in 117 runs while hitting .301. However after punching a fan who called him a bum, his fate was sealed in Pittsburgh and he was bound for Boston and Fenway Park, a right-handed power hitters paradise.
Red Sox public relations director Bill Crowley was told, “he’ll rub you the wrong way, but you’ll end up liking him.”
Well, Stuart did not leave his bravado in Pittsburgh and when he reported to spring training in Scottsdale Arizona 49 years ago this week, he did so in a cloud of controversy having said some disparaging things about baseball managers. He compounded his difficulties by telling Ted Williams that all “old Guys” were good for was hitting pepper and then he told the Boston press he’d hit 40 homers. He was rubbing everybody the wrong way.
But his first hit of the year was a home run in Washington which propelled the Sox to a 3-0 win. His first hit at Fenway Park was three run homer leading to a 6-1 victory.
His boyish charm and Hollywood looks, garnered him both a radio and TV show in Boston; Bill Crowley liked him, as did the Fenway Faithful. In 1963 he hit 42 homers joining Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams as the only Red Sox players to hit 40 homers in a season. And he led the league with 118 RBI and 319 total bases. He also led the league in grounding into double plays and he set a Red Sox strikeout record, fanning 144 times.
Then there was of course the matter of his defensive ability or more apropos, his lack thereof. To his credit, he warned the Fenway Faithful that he was not a stellar performer with the glove and around the bag. And it was not long before he proved true to his word. He made 29 errors in 1963, and 24 more the following year earning him nicknames like Dr. Strangeglove and Stonefingers. Fittingly enough, both knock offs from popular movies of his day, Dr Strangelove and Goldfinger.
Stuart was, in many ways, a precursor to the modern athlete, as his baseball career was a springboard to other endeavors off the field. And he was the prototypical designated hitter, only he was about 15 years too early.
He was gone from the Red Sox after only two seasons; seasons in which he hit 75 home runs, knocked in 232 runs and was cheered for “fielding” a hot dog wrapper blowing around the Fenway infield.
He returned to Boston in 1966 as a surprise guest at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner and accepted a “Gold Glove Award” . Curt Gowdy presented it to him to for being so good-natured about the ribbing he took for his fielding.
Dick Stuart will always hold a special place in the heart of the Fenway Faithful who cheered him, booed him and loved him.
And so it was at this time in Fenway Park history, Stonefinger’s time.