Wilkinsburg Son Marks Historic Anniversary


This October marks the 50th anniversary of the breathtaking 1960 Pirates’ World Series win and Wilkinsburg-born Dick Groat’s selection as National League MVP.
Even some Pirate fans don’t know that Groat got his start in basketball. In fact, Richard Morrow Groat shared the same honor as Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Oscar Robinson and Bill Russell—the best college basketball player of the year. All, but Groat, have entered the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Groat was born in Wilkinsburg in November 1930. His family later moved to Swissvale where he starred on the high school basketball court. Recruited by Duke University, he played both basketball and baseball. As a guard for the Blue Devils basketball team, he quickly amassed a number of national and regional awards: Helms Player of the Year (1951), Southern Conference Player of the Year (1951, 1952), Southern Conference Tournament MVP (1951, 1952), First Team All-America (1952), and Duke Team Captain (1952).
1952 was a particularly busy year for him. In his last game for Duke against rival North Carolina, he scored a career-high 48 points. On May 1, he became the first Duke player to have his basketball jersey retired and was the first round draft pick of the Fort Wayne (later Detroit) Pistons.
To top that off, he played a little baseball for the Blue Devils, batting .370 and helping his team earn a berth in the College World Series. His baseball talents must have been pretty good, for the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates made Dick Groat a bonus player, allowing him to bypass the minor leagues and play directly for Pirates in late June through the end of the season.
How he was able to juggle playing for the Pistons before graduation was truly astounding. In his final semester at Duke, he played in Pistons games on non-class days and most weekends. Because of his limited availability he wasn’t able to practice with the team; even so, he averaged 12 points in the 30 or so games he played.
Opponents took notice. Here was a kid playing competitively as a part-timer against veteran players while balancing the demands of school and travel. Groat seemed destined for bigger things in the NBA.
And then he left basketball for good.
According to an interview he gave the Christian Science Monitor in June 1952, “In the long run, I’ll be better off sticking to baseball. I’m glad for a chance to come right up to the majors from college.” The writer considered Groat a good fielder but “showing a rookie’s anxiety at the plate.”
He got over that “anxiety” and went on to become a recognizable name as a shortstop for the Pirates. His career stats reside in the major league baseball books: 8-time All-Star selection, 2-time World Series Champion (1960, 1964), Lou Gehrig Memorial Award recipient (1960), a career batting average of .286, and 2,138 career hits.
Fifty years ago, Groat was awarded the National League MVP while batting a league-high .325 average. The 5’11’, 180-pounder anchored the left side of the Pirates infield while Bill Mazeroski secured the right. Through stellar defense and timely hitting they helped deliver a championship to Pittsburgh.
His baseball career continued with the St Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and ended with the San Francisco Giants in 1967.
In 2004, he told the Duke newspaper Blue Devil Weekly, “I consider myself a retired basketball player.” Groat continued to say that “baseball did everything for me,” but that he considers himself a basketball player first.
The legendary coach Red Auerbach later looked back over Groat’s career— “He was a lot better basketball player.” This is high praise coming from a coach who won nine-championships with the Boston Celtics.
Today the multi-talented Groat is still courtside, as the radio analyst for the University of Pittsburgh’s men’s basketball team. It seems he really can’t get basketball out of his blood. Basketball served as a bookends of his life, with baseball sandwiched in between.


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