In Boston last week after a night game Dick Stuart was interviewed on television in front of the dugout. The game had been over for 10 minutes and the ball park was half dark, but as the Red Sox first baseman and the announcer talked on camera, remnants of the crowd waited and watched and made loud, raucous comments.
"Attaway to hustle, Stu, baby!" a fan roared on the far side of the field.
"Never mind what they say, Stuart," yelled another. "You're good."
A third shouted in a perfect Boston accent: "He's not a ballplayuh. He's a television staa."
The interview ended, the announcer wrapped up the telecast and Stuart started to walk off the field and down into the Boston clubhouse. As he did, a knot of people standing behind the dugout broke into mocking applause. Stuart glanced up at them and smiled.
"My hecklers," he said cheerfully. "Other ballplayers have loyal fans. I have loyal hecklers."
Dick Stuart is the most fun Boston has had since the last time Ted Williams spit. "He's taken this town by—well, some kind of storm," said Bill Crowley, the Red Sox publicity man. "No one is indifferent to him. The other day we had a fight in the stands over him. A guy ran down to the fence with one of those popcorn-box megaphones and began to yell things at Stuart. He really poured it on. Dick looked over at him and said, 'Why don't you come out here and say that?' I started to phone the chief usher to have him get the fan out of there when another fellow, a big guy in a blue shirt, grabbed the one with the megaphone and belted him. He wound up and hit him a couple of times. Stuart is out on the field going like this with his fist, as if to say, 'Attaboy, give it to him.'
"They boo Stuart and they cheer him, but they come out to see him. He sells a lot of tickets for us. He even has his own TV show. Every Sunday night right after the news. Stuart on Sports. It has the best rating of any TV sports show in Boston."
Stuart is in his first year with the Red Sox, and his swift capture of both the affection and antipathy of the crowds at Fenway Park is based on 1) his ability to hit home runs, and 2) his inability to field ground balls. Stuart is a classic home run hitter, a big swinger who strikes out a great deal (the other day he struck out for the 121st time, a new Boston club record) but who hits the ball a long way when he connects. The Red Sox obtained him from the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter in an off-season trade, and they got him expressly to hit home runs over the short left-field wall in Fenway Park. Stuart has come through handsomely. Last week, to the delight of Boston's fans, he was the American League's leading home run hitter, and 23 of his first 33 homers had been made in Fenway. Now, in Boston, when Stuart comes to the plate, there is a noisy stirring in the crowd and spontaneous applause.
Stuart's fielding has lived up to its advance billing, too. In each of his five seasons with Pittsburgh, Dick led the National League first basemen—or tied for the lead—in making errors. This year he is way out in front among American League first basemen; as of August 24 he had 20 errors—the second worst fielder had nine. For these blunders, he is booed with extraordinary vigor.