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Dick Stuart was born about ten years too early, from a baseball perspective.
These days, 66 home runs and 158 RBI in a short Single-A season might get a guy a quick September shot at the bigs, but not for Stuart in 1956.
And those 45 homers with 122 RBI he smashed in 1957 weren’t enough, either.
In fact, it wasn’t until Stuart crushed 31 long balls in just 80 game for the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees in 1958 that he finally got the call to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July.
It had been a long climb for the young man the Bucs signed as an amateur free agent before the 1951 season, and he wasn’t so young anymore, either — he’d turn 26 that fall.
Stuart acquitted himself well in that tall cup of coffee in 1958, though, batting .268 with 16 homers and 48 RBI.
That was enough — finally — to get Stuart more or less regular playing time at first base for Pittsburgh in 1959, and in 1960, when they won an epic seven-game World Series against the New York Yankees.
In fact, Stuart remained the (mostly) regular at Forbes Field through 1962, though he played more than 122 games just once in that span.
The problem wasn’t his bat — Stuart was a classic slugger, connecting on 117 long balls and driving in 390 runs with a respectable .273 average during his Pirates tenure. Sure, he struck out a lot (483 Ks), but he drew enough walks that his .839 OPS during that stretch looks pretty starry even from our Sabermetrics perspective here in the 2020s.
No, the problem with Dick Stuart was that he never met a batted or thrown baseball he wasn’t able to bobble, flub, or throw away.
Dr. Strangeglove, they called him.
The Man With the Iron Glove.
And, starting in 1963, the Boston Strangler.
Because, after the 1962 season, the Pirates traded their two-time All-Star along with Jack Lamabe to the Red Sox in exchange for Jim Pagliaroni and Don Schwall.
Had the year been 1973 or 1974, the Sawx might have slid Stuart into their designated hitter spot and let the fireworks begin.
Ah, but Ron Blomberg hadn’t been invented yet in 1963, so Boston got their fireworks … and not just in the batter’s box.
Sure, Stuart tatered a career-high 42 baseballs and drove in an American-League-leading 118 runs in ‘63, but he also committed a personal “best” 29 errors at first while fielding at a .979 clip, well below the league average (.990).
It was more of the same in 1964, though with a few fewer homers and a few fewer errors, and a slightly higher batting average.
The BoSox had had their fill of Stuart’s fireworks, though, and they shipped him and his “glove” to the Phillies that November, in exchange for lefty Dennis Bennett.
Stuart lasted just one season in Philly, despite doing what he always did — hitting home runs (28), driving in runs (95), and bobbling balls (17 errors).
In February of 1966, the Phils shipped Stuart to the New York Mets in exchange for Wayne Graham, Bobby Klaus and Jimmie Schaffer.
Now, through the early and mid-1960s, Stuart had appeared on the standard complement of baseball cards, and Topps had somehow managed to keep up with his moves — showing him on a Red Sox card in 1963 even though that was his first year in Boston, and with the Phils in 1965 even though he was a newcomer to the City of Brotherly Love.
And, even though, Stuart didn’t know Shea Stadium would be his new home until late in the 1965-66 offseason, Topps kept up with the Joneses … er, the Strangeglove … that year, too:
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Maybe Topps had learned to never rely on Stuart’s current address, as those things are wont to change on a dime, and purposely pushed him into a later series.
Whatever the case, the old gum company had enough time before rolling out their 1966 Dick Stuart card to capture him in his new(est) uniform, complete with Spring Training long sleeves.
Of course, not even Topps can get everything right all the time and in the moment, and so it was that, by July, that 1966 Stuart card was already outdated.
Released by the Mets in June, old Stonefingers caught on with the Los Angeles Dodgers the next month.
When the Dodgers cut him loose in November, Stuart turned to the Taiyo Whales in the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
And, since Topps wasn’t in the business of issuing cards of dudes not on a Major League roster, collectors suddenly had a hole in their Stuart run, just like his teams had at first base.
Two years later, in 1969, Stuart turned back to the American game and signed as a free agent with the California Angels. After mashing 12 dingers for the Triple-A Phoenix Giants, the 36-year-old got the call to Anaheim.
In 22 games with the Angels, Stuart hit .157 with just one home run and 21 strikeouts. He also managed just one error at first, which must have been a major disappointment to Halo fans hoping for some of that old Strangeglove magic.
In June, California released Stuart, and he was done as a player.
If only he could have held on for four more years, maybe 40-year-old Dick Stuart would have found a home as a Major League DH.
Heck, maybe he would have been the first DH.
And, maybe then, we’d have been treated to a more fitting and up-to-date final Stuart baseball card.
But, of course, that would have been anticlimactic, too.
I mean, what fun is it to have Dr. Strangeglove on your roster if you don’t get the benefit of watching the carnage in the dirt?
Want a truly unique Dr. Strangeglove collectible? Look no further than this eBay listing:
That’s a questionnaire that Stuart filled for William J. Weiss, official statistician for the Pacific Coast League, back in 1955.
A truly fascinating slice of baseball history … check it out on eBay right here (affiliate link).
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End Date: Sunday 12/17/2023 00:28:06 EST
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