The “Black Aces”

Dave Stewart was one of my idols growing up. I was in my late teen’s, early 20s when he was in his heyday for an A’s team that eventually won three straight AL championships and a World Series. And the way he conducted himself on the mound and off it left an impression that still remains with me to this day. He was everything an athlete should be, even more a stud off the field than he was on it.

That’s why I’ve savored the opportunities I’ve had to talk to him through the years. I think he’s extrememly thoughtful, incredibly intelligent and doesn’t care one bit about offending anybody or being politically correct with anything he says (which is probably one of the reasons he is no longer working in a baseball front office). “If it’s the truth as I see it,” he told me one time, “then I’ve got nothing to apologize for.” To me, that’s one quality of leadership, and he had many. And if you don’t think Stewart had an impact on most people with whom he came into contact, you haven’t heard stories of his retirement press conference, where even the crustiest souls in the Bay Area were reduced to tears.

That’s why I listened with particular interest to Stewart’s thoughts regarding tomorrow’s pregame ceremony at the Coliseum, in which the A’s will honor Stewart, Vida Blue, Mike Norris and Jim “Mudcat” Grant, four of baseball’s “Black Aces.” I knew he’d be honest about it, and while he said he was extremely honored, he also mentioned that there was a touch of sadness to the fact that what he did with the A’s — four straight 20-win seasons, 275.2 innings pitched in 1988, 49 complete games — likely won’t be matched again.

Here are some additional quotes from Stewart regarding the subject of the Black Aces. I’ll blog tomorrow with additional quotes from Blue and Norris.

“I would hope that especially in Bay Area, where there is strong population of black people, I would hope the younger kids in the Bay Area would look at ceremony and see that there should be more involvement among blacks in game of baseball, but also at the position of pitcher. … We have to try to populate game more with black athletes and black players.”

“I followed a lot of guys. Bob Gibson was one. I knew about career of Don Newcombe. I came along at period of time when Mudcat Grant was still pitching. Al Downing was a teammate of mine with Dodgers. Vida Blue obviously was a Bay Area hero. I watched Juan Marichal. I watched a lot of prominent pitchers in game of baseball. … Mike Norris was a guy who helped me with mechanics of game.

“I started out catching. I changed from catching to pitching. I came up with the Dodgers (after being drafted by them in 1975), and of course, they were pioneers when it came to the black player. It was very difficult for me. First, you’ve got to like the position. Second, you’ve got to go from playing every day to every fifth day. … I think that’s the biggest leap for most black athletes. When you’re a starting pitcher, you’re not an everyday player but a once-every-five-days player. That’s tough.”

“You see some great guys in recent years that have won 20 three years in row. … But none of them did it four years in row, even when it was possible. It was a difficult, difficult thing to do. I look back on one year I had 275 innings. Don’t think anybody did it since, There were the complete games, a lot of stuff. I may be a last to do a lot of those things. It makes me prideful, but it also makes me said, because pitchers are getting paid a lot more to do a lot less.”


  • proxl

    One thing that I think ought to be pointed out is that while there is a dearth of African-American players in baseball, there is a significant number of players of African descent. We just happen to classify them as Latin players. For instance, pretty much every Dominican player is a black man.

    Not saying that baseball should NOT try to sell the game to the African-American community. But I AM saying, it’s important to use the “African-American” term in this particular context.