When Danny Ferry broke Dick Groat’s single-game scoring record at Duke, it took some folks in Groat’s hometown of Pittsburgh by surprise.
“People didn’t realize I held that record because they remember me as a baseball player,” Groat said.
“Basketball is the sport I played the best,” Groat said of his 3 years at Duke.
On February 29, 1952, he scored 48 points against North Carolina. It was a school record that stood for 36 years, before Ferry smashed it with a 58-point performance last weekend against Miami.
Groat recalls his baseball career with a talent scout’s approach. His critique isn’t flattering.
“First of all, the things I lacked in baseball (were) costly. I did not have great speed, I did not have a great arm nor did I have great power,” Groat said in a telephone interview from his Pittsburgh home. “So baseball became work.”
All that work on baseball made Groat a two-time All-American, in 1951 and 1952. In that first season, Groat batted .386 and led the Blue Devils, coached by Jack Coombs, to the College World Series. The Blue Devils won their first game against Oregon State before dropping out of the tournament with losses to Penn State and Western Michigan.
Groat batted .370 the next season and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates right out of college.
But it was basketball with which Groat felt more comfortable, and Ferry’s effort didn’t completely erase his name from the Duke record book.
He still holds the single-season record for most points with 831 in 1951. Though he is second behind Tommy Amaker’s 241 assists with 229 in the 1952 season, he averaged 7.6 that season and that is still the best among Blue Devils.
Groat is eighth among Duke’s all-time scorers with 1,886 points. His number “10" jersey has been retired.
“In basketball, if you can play defenses and handle the ball and pass, and if you’re fortunate enough to shoot it, you can do it all,” he said.
In 1952, Groat tried just that. After concluding the 1952 baseball season with the Pirates, he went on to play for the Ft. Wayne Pistons of the National Basketball Assn.
“I honestly felt it would be all right to play both sports for a number of years. I’m not saying I made the wrong decision,” he said.
During his one season with the Pistons, Groat played 26 games of the 69-game schedule. He averaged 11.9 points a game, one of 7 players who averaged double figures.
His athletic career was interrupted by military service, where he said the basketball was better. When he returned to Pittsburgh in 1955, Groat was ready to resume his two-sport responsibilities. Pirate owner Branch Rickey would have no part of it.
“Mr. Rickey had no sense of humor about those sorts of things,” Groat said. “His contention was that’s a whole different world. He said ‘How much do you think the human body could take?”’
Groat said he even considered breaking his baseball contract in order to rejoin the Pistons. His father had different ideas.
“I remember back in the early ‘50s, baseball was the sport, professionally, to be a member of, more so than football. It was the great American pastime,” he said. “Plus, I had signed a 5-year bonus contract. My father had no sense of humor about breaking that contract.”
Groat had 9 seasons with the Pirates, helping the team get to the World Series in 1960, where they beat the New York Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning home run. He was named most valuable player that year, batting .325 to lead the National League.
Groat went back to the World Series in 1964, then as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He played with the Cardinals in 1965, went to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1966, then split the 1967 season between the Phillies and the San Francisco Giants before retiring.
On the night that Ferry broke the record, Groat was working at his first love--as an analyst for University of Pittsburgh radio broadcasts. That night wasn’t a good one for the broadcast team because West Virginia beat the Panthers.
“We were watching the television in the restaurant. My partner had done the wrap-up and we were watching what (Pitt Coach) Paul Evans had to say,” Groat said. “The fellow sitting next to me was actually manager of the basketball team when we were kids. Ironically, he had followed my career closely and he said ‘He broke your record, Dick.”’
Ferry and Groat met just 2 weeks earlier at Durham, where Groat frequently visits.
Baseball is what made Groat popular among his fans at Pittsburgh, but basketball is what apparently makes him happy.
“I always considered myself a retired basketball player, not a retired baseball player,” he said. “Basketball was always my first sport.”