First base is where gloves go to die and the bats go to live and for the Boston Red Sox that certainly was true for one point in their history. For the younger followers of the team remember one thing about the glove work at first – no matter how putrid, even a shift of Hanley Ramirez, nothing can even come remotely close to Dick Stuart.
In a world gone by first base was the destination where many teams placed – to be polite – players with defensive limitations. Hence the back to the future option with Ramirez. In that age, Stuart would be stationed at DH and be done with it, but the DH was ten years down the baseball highway.
The Red Sox lust for a right-handed power bat will last as long as The Green Monster sits and observes hitters from a laughable 310’ feet distant. Always the search. Sometimes it would be within the system that hope would surface such as Walt Dropo and sometimes via trade such as the acquisition of Jimmie Foxx. I could generate quite a dossier on the various attempts to find that proverbial “Big Bat.”
Stuart became available and on November 20th of 1962 the Red Sox sprang into action. The Red Sox shipped 1961 Rookie of The Year, Don Schwall, and 24-year-old Jim Pagliaroni – a promising catcher – to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Stuart and Jack Lamabe.
Schwall came up and surprised in 1961 with an All-Star nod to go along with ROY and 15 wins. The following season was a regression at 9-15 and a 4.94 ERA. Pags was a bonus baby who actually appeared in a game as a 17-year-old. A powerful built right-handed bat who was something of a disappointment, so the Red Sox cut bait and brought in “Dr. Strange Glove.”
The hubris of Stuart was clearly on display if you got an autograph, since he would write it with a “66” in the middle to reflect on the fact he once hammered out 66 home runs while pretending to play first base in the low minors. That is an indication of what Stuart considered first and foremost – the home run.
In five seasons as a Pirate “Stone fingers” slashed .273/.326/.512 while hitting 117 home runs and bagging 390 RBI. And he also led the National League in whiffs during one of those seasons. But the one point of reference that is significant in any study of Stuart is his defensive indifference. Stuart displayed a classic matador style to even the most routine of ground balls.
In his two seasons in Boston, Stuart accounted for 53 errors at first base and I was stunned when I saw that total – my assumption would have been triple figures. I have never witnessed a more incompetent defensive player at first base at any level and that includes Little League.
What Boston did get was exactly what they expected on offense. In his two seasons, Stuart smashed 75 home runs and accounted for 232 RBI and led the league with 118 RBI in 1963. Stu also managed to whiff 274 times in his two-year sojourn into Beantown.
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One telling fable is the tail end of the 1963 season when Stuart was in a battle with defending home run champion, Harmon Killebrew, for the league lead. A three-game series in Boston saw Harmon hit five out to seal up the home run title and the story goes that the Red Sox pitchers, disgusted with Stuart’s defensive ambivalence, served up meatballs for the future member of the HOF.
The other part of the deal was Lamabe, who was affectionately known as “Old Tomato Face.” Lamabe never did much except lead the league in earned runs in 1964 before being shipped to Houston in 1965. Both Schwall and Pagliaroni had lackluster careers and that left Stuart.
Boston sent Stuart to Philadelphia for Dennis Bennett and Stu had one more significant season left with 28 home runs and 95 RBI to go with 136 strikeouts. A few more years of MLB and some playing time in Japan before calling it.
Stuart becomes my benchmark for play at first base. Nothing – and I do mean nothing – could possibly be any more defensively dysfunctional. Ramirez could flop around like a beached Orca, but that will never match the exploits of Stuart. I will keep that in focus when the shift of Ramirez takes place providing Dave Dombrowski has not found a willing suitor to send Hanley elsewhere