August 8, 1960
No Tobacco road they still think of Dick Groat as a basketball player, a powerful point guard with hands as soft as a lullaby and a jump shot as straight and true as June Cleaver. In 1952 he was the national player of the year after averaging 26.0 points and 7.6 assists as a senior at Duke. His 831 points in his junior season remains the standard for single-season points by a Blue Devil. "I'm remembered as a baseball player and not by the sport I played the best," says Groat, 68. " North Carolina is the one place where I'm still remembered as a basketball player."
He is remembered elsewhere as a slightly built (5'11", 172 pounds), slow-footed shortstop who rarely made an errant throw and developed into a masterly hit-and-run batsman. "I didn't have speed, power or the greatest arm," says Groat, a .286 hitter over 14 seasons. "Baseball was work. Every day."
Basketball was another story. Long before Deion discovered prime time and Bo knew home runs, Groat made his claim as the nation's premier dual-sport star. He jumped straight to the majors from the College World Series in June 1952 and hit a team-high .284 in 95 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That winter he suited up for the Fort Wayne Pistons and averaged 11.9 points in 26 games. After serving a two-year army commitment at Fort Belvoir, Va., Groat intended to resume playing two pro sports in '55. Pirates general manager Branch Rickey had other ideas. "He told me the human body before long would not let me do a good job for either team," says Groat, who opted to honor his contract with Pittsburgh—his NBA deal had expired—and give up his hoop dreams. "I was heartbroken. Basketball was my first love."
In 1960 Groat hit a National League-leading .325, won the league's MVP award and captained the Pirates to their first world championship in 35 years. Two years later he was dealt to St. Louis, where in '63 he led the majors in doubles with 43 and in '64 played for a second World Series-winning team. That year Groat and another Pirate, Jerry Lynch, broke ground on a golf course seven miles north of Ligonier, Pa. After retiring as a player in '67, Groat began helping to manage the course. Today, he lives at his Champion Lakes Golf Club for half the year; the other six months he lives in Edgewood, Pa., and works as a radio analyst for Pitt basketball. Groat has three adult daughters and six grandchildren. His wife of 35 years, Barbara, died in '90 of lung cancer. Asked to ponder his potential payday had he been born 50 years later, Groat, a two-sport All-America, can only smile. "If I came out of college today," he says, "I could pay cash for the golf course."