Dick Groat, a two-sport star who went from All-American guard in basketball to a brief stint in the NBA to ultimately an All-Star shortstop and the 1960 National League MVP while playing baseball for his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates, has died. He was 92.
Groat’s family said in a statement that he died Thursday at UMPC Presbyterian Hospital due to complications from a stroke.
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“We are deeply saddened by the loss of such a beloved member of the Pirates family and Pittsburgh community,” Pirates Chairman Bob Nutting said in a statement, calling Groat “a great player and an even better person.”
Groat, who was from the Swissvale neighbourhood just east of Pittsburgh’s downtown, starred at Duke in basketball and baseball in the early 1950s, earning All-American honours in both. His No. 10 jersey hangs inside Cameron Indoor Stadium after the program retired his number following the end of his senior season in 1952.
Groat attempted to play both baseball and basketball professionally, signing with the Pirates and being drafted by the Fort Wayne Pistons of the then-fledgling NBA within weeks of each other in 1952.
While Groat said basketball was his first love, a stint in the military during the mid-1950s redirected the arc of his athletic career.
After leaving the service, Pirates general manager Branch Rickey persuaded Groat to focus on baseball, a decision that turned into a lengthy 14-year career split between Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Groat made the All-Star team in five seasons and led the majors in hitting in 1960 when he batted .325.
That season ended with Groat earning NL MVP honours for a Pirates team that upset the New York Yankees to win the World Series.
Groat finished with 2,138 career hits during a major league career that spanned from 1952-67. The Pirates announced last week that Groat would be inducted into the team’s recently established Hall of Fame later this summer.
A member of the college basketball and college baseball Halls of Fame, Groat was a two-time All-American guard at Duke in the 1950s and remains the second-leading scorer in school history, averaging 23.0 points for the Blue Devils. He was taken third overall by the Fort Wayne Pistons in the 1952 NBA draft.
Groat played 26 games for the Pistons, averaging 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists. His basketball career, however, ended after he enlisted in the Army in 1953. He spent nearly two years in the service and when he was discharged, Rickey essentially threatened to take away Groat’s signing bonus if he didn’t turn his attention to baseball.
Groat relented and became one of the most consistent shortstops of his era. He played in eight All-Star games (there were two games a season for a brief period in the 1950s and 1960s) and during Pittsburgh’s improbable run to a World Series title in 1960, it was Groat and not future baseball Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski who spearheaded the Pirates’ unlikely rise from perennial also-ran to championship club.
The list of players who finished behind Groat in the 1960 NL MVP voting includes Hall of Famers Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Eddie Matthews.
A smooth defender who teamed with Mazeroski to lead the NL in double plays five times — a record that still stands — Groat played 1,290 games at shortstop for the Pirates, fourth on the club’s all-time list.
Pittsburgh traded Groat to St. Louis in November 1962. Groat responded by having the best statistical season of his career in 1963, finishing second in MVP voting behind Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax while hitting .319 with a major league-leading 43 doubles. Groat won a second world championship that fall as the Cardinals toppled the Yankees in seven games.
Groat played briefly for Philadelphia and then the Giants before retiring after the 1967 season. He remained active in the Pittsburgh area following his playing days, including spending four decades as a colour commentator for the University of Pittsburgh basketball team.
Groat is survived by daughters Tracey, Carol Ann and Allison, along with 11 grandchildren.