The Designated Hitter Was Made for His Bat (and Glove)

 

Homer Happy: Dick Stuart

Dick Stuart was notorious for being the worst first baseman of his era … maybe anybody’s era. He set error records that have never been matched.

He was the perfect candidate for the designated hitter role, except he retired as an active player four years before the DH was adopted by the American League in 1973.

Dick Stuart was the first player to hit 30 or more home runs in both major leagues.

Dick Stuart was the first player to hit 30 or more home runs in both major leagues.

He would have been a good DH, because Stuart could hit with power. Managers put up with his deficiencies in the field for nearly a decade because, in his prime, his bat was so lethal.

Stuart was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951 and set home run records at nearly every stop as he made his way through the Pirates’ minor league system. He hit 31 home runs in 1952, his first full season of professional baseball, then spent 2 years in military service. Stuart came back in 1955 to blast 32 home runs, then walloped Western League pitching for 66 home runs in 1966. He hit 45 home runs for three different minor league teams in 1956, and then spent all of the 1957 season in Triple-A ball, hitting “only” 31 home runs with 82 runs batted in.

Stuart was ready for major league pitching.

He made his debut with the Pirates in 1958, hitting .268 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs in only 267 at-bats. He hit 27 home runs in 1959, and during the Pirates’ pennant-winning season of 1960, Stuart launched only 23 home runs but drove in 83 runs.

Stuart had a beast of a year for the Pirates in 1961, hitting 35 home runs with 117 RBIs while batting .301. His power numbers slipped to 16 home runs and 64 RBIs in 1962, and over the winter he was traded with Jack Lamabe to the Boston Red Sox for Jim Pagliaroni and Don Schwall.

Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field was a large ballpark not especially conducive to producing home runs, which made Stuart’s power displays with the Pirates all the more impressive. On the other hand, Boston’s Fenway Park was made for right-handed power hitters, and Stuart’s hitting flourished in a Red Sox uniform. In 1963, he hit 42 home runs (second in the American League to Harmon Killebrew’s 45) and led the league with 118 runs batted in. He was the first player to hit 30 or more home runs in both major leagues.

Stuart followed up in 1964 with 33 homers (and 114 RBIs), but his career was beginning its decline. He was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Dennis Bennett, and hit 28 home runs with 95 RBIs for the Phillies in 1965. It was his last season as an everyday player. Stuart played for the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966, hitting a combined seven home runs with 22 RBIs. After 2 seasons in the minors and a brief comeback with the California Angels in 1969, Stuart retired with a career batting average of .264 and 228 home runs.

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