Just spoke with one of the heroes of the 1960 World Series, catcher Hal Smith, a man who shares the same name as the actor who played Otis Campbell on the Andy Griffith Show. Smith turns 89 on Pearl Harbor Day, coming up soon (as of the time of this writing). Without Smith’s eighth inning homer, Maz is denied the opportunity to play the role of the game-winning hero.
Smith, who possesses a great sense of humor, has a stock reply when asked a question to which he can’t recall the answer: “I was a catcher—I took too many foul balls to the head.”
After Smith left the Pirates, going to Houston in 1962, the magic of Pittsburgh departed with him. Did he still root for the Pirates when they didn’t play Houston or follow them in box scores? “No. I played against them. I didn’t root for them after that. I didn’t care about them winning or losing because they were just another team.” He did, however, still pull for old teammates individually. “We’re still friends,” he said in the November 2019 interview.
Smith said, “I enjoyed Pittsburgh. It was a good baseball town, and I came from some teams that were not in good baseball towns, Baltimore and Kansas City. They were terrible baseball towns.”
He realized that even though the Pirates would enjoy success again in the Seventies and, to a lesser extent, in the Nineties, nothing could match the joy the win in 1960 brought.
In addition to interviewing Smith, I spoke with about eight other Pirates for my upcoming book (out in 2020 on Amazon), 1960: When the Pittsburgh Pirates Had Them All the Way. Some of the material in this blog is from that book, other info is exclusive to this blog. Here are some items from Dick Groat:
Being a Pittsburgher all his life, he said when he was traded to the Cardinals it broke his heart. One advantage of the move, though, was playing with Stan Musial. Hitting behind Musial in the lineup was an enormous boost for Groat who admires The Man. “He was absolutely wonderful,” Groat began. “I never had so many good balls to hit in my life. They weren’t going to walk me to get to Stan Musial.”
Going to the Cards also gave Groat another World Championship in 1964, the season Groat called his best in the majors. “I finished second in the MVP voting behind Sandy Koufax. I’m very proud of that because you can’t find a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax. He and Bob Gibson were the number one and two pitchers in all of baseball.”
Groat was an All-American basketball player at Duke University (his was the first jersey to be retired by the school and it would be 28 years before another player was so honored). He wound up playing one year in the NBA, long before big-name, two-sport stars such as Bo Jackson came along.
“Mr. [Branch] Rickey gave me the opportunity when I was a junior at Duke. He said, ‘If you’ll sign a contract, I’ll start you against Cincinnati tomorrow night.’ I said, ‘Mr. Rickey, I appreciate that, and you know I want to play baseball, but I’m going back to Duke to finish my scholarship and play both basketball and baseball. If you make the same offer [next year], I promise you I’ll sign with the Pirates.’ And he lived by his word.”
Even though Groat’s days at Duke are so distant, in 2019 when asked if he still follows the Blue Devils basketball program, he replied, “Sure! My daughter Tracey still lives in Durham and her husband, Lou Goetz, was a former basketball coach at Duke [under Bill Foster], so I certainly follow them. Coach K, I feel, is a friend of mine and a very special coach, as is the boy he kind of raised, his number one assistant for eight years, Jeff Capel, who is now the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.”
Groat was asked if he had mixed feelings when his hometown Panthers, a team he broadcast for over a period of decades, played the Blue Devils in basketball. He didn’t hesitate, “The truth of the matter is, I’ve been a Pitt fan since I was probably five or six-years-old. And it boils down to the fact that I read an article in Sport magazine that said they played big league baseball at Duke. That was in a story about Coach Jack Coombs, and then when my brothers made a couple of phone calls, [a school official] got me a basketball scholarship because Duke didn’t give baseball scholarships back in those days.”
Although he would have fit in nicely at Pitt, he certainly made the right decision in going with Duke. He did say that he was good friends with “every one of the Pitt players. I played basketball with them in tournaments around here.”
After former Pirate Jerry Lynch retired, he and Groat became partners, running the golf course they designed in 1966, the Champion Lakes Golf Club in the Laurel Highlands area. Groat still owns the course, one which was once given a 4-Star rating by Golf Digest which listed it as one of the top 50 public courses in the country.
Groat stated, “Jerry and I actually walked the property for two solid months, had the golf course laid out exactly the way we wanted, and 53 years later it’s still exactly the same other than the fact that it’s in country club condition. That was our goal, and we kind of lived by it, we were going to build a country club [type course] and make it available to the man that couldn’t afford to pay for the green fees of a country club.”
At Duke University, Groat wound up studying Business. Then one day, said Groat, “Coach Jack Coombs, the baseball coach said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing in Business. You’re going to play major league baseball and basketball so you better get a teaching degree because you might want to coach someday.’ So I ended up with a teaching degree.”
Asked if the courses he did take in Business helped him when he became an owner of a golf course, he snickered, “No. Not really.”
Final note: if you’re interested in such baseball topics (and others), three of my books are on Amazon so just go there and type in my name to see all of my titles but you have to keep scrolling down to see them all as some of them are mixed in with, for example, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne movies. The three latest books which I recently worked on to place on amazon are Baseball Oddities (I’d wait until December to order this one as I’m still fixing one more thing on it), Great Tales of Baseball, and Behind the Scenes with the Cleveland Indians. You could even pre-order what is probably my favorite of the books I’ve written,