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Two-sport star at Duke remains active in athletics

He stood 6-feet at most and barely surpassed 170 pounds. He attended Duke from 1948-1952, and he was inducted into the Duke Sports Hall of Fame in its first class. Still, most current Duke undergraduates have never heard of him. His name is Dick Groat, and he is the greatest all-around athlete in Duke history.

Born Richard Morrow Groat in November 1930, Dick Groat starred in both baseball and basketball at Duke. Although he would go on to a brilliant career as a baseball player, the Swissvale, Penn., native was actually more talented on the hardwood than he was on the diamond.

“I still consider myself a retired basketball player,” Groat said. “The game [of basketball] was my first love. It is probably because the game came a lot easier to me. Baseball was work, but basketball was always fun and the drawbacks I had in baseball did not exist in basketball.”

Even at the age of 73, Groat continues to immerse himself in the sporting world. He owns and operates the Champion Lakes Golf Course in Bolivar, Penn., which is approximately two miles from where he grew up and currently lives. Groat waives the $30 greens fee for any current or former professional baseball player who wants to test the links.

Like he did playing two sports in his 20s, Groat remains active in two sports 50 years later. During the fall and winter, Groat is a radio commentator for University of Pittsburgh basketball games, and this upcoming season will be his 26th at the mic.

Sitting courtside, Groat recalls memories of when he ruled the hallowed grounds of Cameron Indoor Stadium and won National Player of the Year in 1952—becoming the first of eight Blue Devils to win the award. His 831 total points in his junior season would remain the Duke single-season record until eclipsed by Duke’s last National Player of the Year Jason Williams nearly 50 years later, and that was before the advent of the shot clock.

Groat was so good that he was signed to play professional basketball by the Ft. Wayne Pistons when he was finishing up his degree. In the fall of 1952 Groat flew back and forth between Durham and wherever the Pistons were playing. The biggest problem for Groat was that Duke students who missed more than three classes in a semester automatically failed the class.

“I had taken my three cuts,” Groat said. “I called the Pistons and told them that I was going to have to stop playing. If I didn’t graduate, my father would have killed me.”

As a collegiate baseball player, Groat began his winning ways that would continue throughout his major league career. In 1952, with Duke ranked number one for the second consecutive year, school administrators allowed the team to play in the College World Series because it was distinguished manager Jack Coombs’ final season. The day after Duke was eliminated, Groat signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $25,000.

“I flew into Pittsburgh Sunday, watched Tuesday, and played Wednesday,” Groat said. “It took time to get adjusted and it was a lot of fun to make a living playing a game I loved.”

Groat’s professional basketball career was over after 1952, as Pirates general manager Branch Rickey forced Groat to dedicate himself to baseball.

His former teammates, with whom Groat still remains close, were glad he stuck with baseball.

“I was fortunate enough to room together with Dick,” former Pirates outfielder Bill Virdon said. “In the 50 years I’ve been in baseball, Dick Groat got more out of his natural abilities than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

As the shortstop for the Pirates from 1955 to 1962, Groat teamed with Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski to form the league’s best double play tandem. In 1960, Groat had a dream season, winning the national league batting crown, the Most Valuable Player award and then the World Series when Mazeroski hit his legendary walk-off homer in game seven against the New York Yankees.

Groat remembers it like it was yesterday.

“I was just grabbing my batting helmet when [Mazeroski] hit it,” Groat said. “Everyone was yelling for the ball to reach the wall because we didn’t think it would get over. Bill Mazeroski was one of my closest friends and he was the best second baseman that the game has ever seen.”

Groat, going on to play in St. Louis, Philadelphia and San Francisco, enjoyed what he called his finest offensive season with the Cardinals in 1963, finishing second to pitcher Sandy Koufax in the MVP voting. In 1964, Groat led the Cards to a World Series title, again taking down the Yankees in seven games.

“No one turned double plays like he and Maz did,” close friend and former teammate Elroy Face said. “Dick was a captain, a good leader, and most of all, a good person.”

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