He is slight, as big league ballplayers go, and if he has muscles they don't show. He is slow and cannot throw hard. One season he was at bat 520 times without hitting a home run; of his 142 hits, 120 were singles. He seldom smiles and almost never laughs. All he does is play baseball—and beat you. His name is Dick Groat.
"He holds the Pirates together," says Gene Mauch of the Phillies.
"He's the player the Pirates can least afford to lose," says Warren Spahn of the Braves.
"He kills us," says Fred Hutchinson of the Reds. "I wish to hell he'd go away."
The punishment which Dick Groat inflicts upon rival National League teams is something like being beaten to death with an ostrich feather fan, and in assessing credit for the rise of the Pittsburgh Pirates it is much easier to pin medals on others. There is Bob Skinner, with his lovely, lethal swing and incredible ability to deliver in the clutch. There is Smoky Burgess, who is short and round but blessed with a pair of the finest wrists and eyes in baseball and the talent to produce base hits without end. There are the two magicians with gloves, Bill Mazeroski and Don Hoak, and the three pitchers that hitters generally dread to see come into town: Bob Friend, Vernon Law and ElRoy Face. There are the rocketing speed and arm of Roberto Clemente and the booming, if infrequent, home runs of Dick Stuart. Gino Cimoli has caught some of the fire, and he has been a good ballplayer this year; so have Hal Smith and Rocky Nelson, who head up the supporting cast. But in all the famed Pirate rallies, and in the solid defensive play which cuts down the other team, the man in the middle always seems to be Dick Groat.
Groat gets on base, he moves the runner along, he keeps the inning alive; he comes up with the big stop and throw when it has to be made. He grows on you, like a very good (or slightly bad) woman with a bland face, and if something should happen to Dick Groat, the Pirates would probably fall apart.
When Bob Oldis, the third-string Pittsburgh catcher, joined the team last spring, he was amazed by Groat, in a negative sort of way. "Why, the guy couldn't do anything. He didn't even look like a big-leaguer to me. But then, day after day, I began to realize what he was doing out there. He was helping this team win ball games. And the longer I'm here, the more respect I have for Dick Groat. He's a hell of a ballplayer."
Smart, quick and rangy
"He always has been," says Al Dark. "They say he doesn't have much range at shortstop. What's range but getting to the ball? And you watch Groat; he's always in front of the ball. He's smart and he knows the hitters and plays position as well as anyone I ever saw. Maybe he doesn't have a great arm, but he makes up for it by getting the ball away quicker than anyone else. He has terrific reactions and great hands, and that's better than speed. As a hitter the only thing he lacks is power. He doesn't strike out, he comes through with men on base, he can bunt and he's the best hit-and-run man in the game.
"For years he was the most underrated ballplayer in the league. Now he's got a good team around him and people are beginning to realize how valuable he is."