MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Anybody who was anybody in the sports world came to Cumberland for the Dapper Dan Awards Banquet.

Major League Baseball and NFL MVPs were there; so were Cy Young Award winners, Heisman Trophy winners, including John Cappelletti the year he won it, some of the greatest managers and college football coaches of all time, Hall of Famers, one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, NFL stars, boxing and golf stars, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins, Maryland Terrapins, West Virginia Mountaineers, Penn State Nittany Lions, some of the greatest sports writers and broadcasters of all time, you name it.

It wasn’t better then, it was just different because the times were so different. Players used offseason banquets such as the Dapper Dan to make a few extra bucks because they obviously were not making the money then that athletes are making now.

Coaches, on the other hand, such as West Virginia’s Bobby Bowden, were often happy to visit as a means for recruiting – witness Penn State’s Joe Paterno bringing his Heisman Trophy winner here for the event the year the top-award winner was Fort Hill quarterback Mark Manges, who, of course, would go to Maryland, whose head coach Jerry Claiborne was also in attendance that evening.

The next time you attend a Dapper Dan dinner, be sure to check out all of the names on the celebrities page that is featured in the program. It is a virtual who’s who of some of the biggest names in sports of this or any generation.

Dick Groat, though, started it all, as he used to come to the Dapper Dan most years with the great Pittsburgh sportswriter Al Abrams, who, in fact, was the man who helped the original organizers receive the charter to start the Dapper Dan Cub of Allegany County so many years ago.

Groat, who died Thursday at the age of 92, might have been the original multi-sport star on the collegiate and professional front.

At Duke University (okay, so nobody’s perfect) he earned All-American honors in basketball and election to the College Basketball Hall of Fame, but he was also a great baseball player and went directly to the Major Leagues as a shortstop after graduating from Duke, never playing an inning in the minor leagues.

A native of Wilkinsburg, Pa., which is adjacent to Pittsburgh, Groat signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates but was also the third overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Fort Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons and averaged 11.9 points a game his rookie season.

Groat helped take the 1960 Pirates to their first World Series championship in 35 years while winning the National League’s batting championship and Most Valuable Player Award. Then he anchored the infield for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 when they won the World Series. He was an eight-time All-Star.

In basketball, as a 5-foot-11, 180-pound guard at Duke, Groat hit jump shots and was an outstanding playmaker. He was a two-time all-American and set an NCAA major-college single-season scoring record with 831 points as a junior in the 1950-51 season. He averaged 23 points a game for his three seasons at Duke.

Playing shortstop, he led Duke to its first College Baseball World Series appearance before joining the Pirates.

After three years in St. Louis, Groat played for the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants, then retired after the 1967 season with a career batting average of .286 and 2,138 hits.

It was at that point Duke offered him its head baseball coaching job, but Groat turned it down, suggesting they hire his former Pirates teammate Tom Butters, which they did. Butters eventually became the Duke athletic director and would hire a basketball coach by the name of Mike Krzyzewski.

For good measure, Groat became the radio analyst for the University of Pittsburgh basketball games and was a fixture there for 33 years. He was also a founder and owner of the Champion Lakes Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa.

On Tuesday of last week, he was at his home in Edgewood, Pa., a Pittsburgh suburb, when he was informed by former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster Steve Blass that he had been elected to the Pirates Hall of Fame.

I met Groat only once, asking for and receiving his autograph at the Dapper Dan one year when I was a kid. Yet by all accounts, he was a kind and generous man who was always glad to help with any charity that he could. In fact, he never accepted a payment from the Dapper Dans for any of the appearances he made here, always covering his own travel and expenses.

He was the recipient of the Arnold Palmer Spirit of Hope Award, given annually to people who serve as an inspiration to children all over the world, and he remained active with charity events involving the Pittsburgh Pirates Alumni Association.

Dick Groat lived a remarkable life and was so accomplished at so many different things that not many had ever attempted to do before he came along or have scratched the surface of doing so since.

Did anybody ever call him a GOAT the way the young nitwit talking heads of this day and age seem to call any athlete at any given time? Not likely; but as Blass said when asked for Groat’s standing among Pittsburgh-born athletes, “There’s Dick Groat … and everybody else.”

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT