I grew up in a home where the vast majority of the time one of two things was being watched on television: the news or sports. By the age of 10, I easily knew more about the Giants and 49ers of San Francisco than whatever the most popular cartoon of the era was.
In this environment I learned how to be a good sports fan. I was taught to be fanatical about my team and at the same time to appreciate the talents of athletes regardless of who they played for.
The reasoning behind me being a Giants fan instead of an A's fan escapes me all these years later, but that is how it was. My favorite team was (and is) the San Francisco Giants, yet, somehow, my favorite player was Oakland's Dave Stewart...go figure.
Being the analytical person I am today, it strikes me that the only players who shared my race and excelled at the pitcher position at the time, that I was aware of, were Dwight Gooden and Dave Stewart. My loyalty is too deep to root for some guy in New York over a West coast player, so that limited the field to one.
David Keith Stewart is a native of Northern California, as well. He was born in Oakland, Calif. in 1957.
Ironically, Stewart started his career with the most hated rivals of my beloved Giants. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in the 16th round of the 1975 amateur draft.
Although the right-hander had a short glimpse of the pros in 1978 (one game, two innings, to be exact), he would not reach the major leagues to stay until 1981.
In 1985, while a member of the Rangers, the most embarrassing episode of Stewart's career occurred.
The hurler was arrested for solicitation (reportedly receiving oral sex) of a "lady of the night." More surprising than the charge was the fact the prostitute was not a lady at all, but rather a transvestite nicknamed Lucille. His real name was Elson Tyler. Many Texas fans never quite got over the incident.
On a personal note, I was not privy to any of this as my admiration grew.
The 1986 season started with Stewart as a Phillie. He did not live up to expectations and was cut. The biggest knock on the pitcher at the time was his lack of an effective off-speed pitch.
He was signed by the Oakland Athletics the same year, his fortunes soon changed, and he officially appeared on my radar.
Between 1987 and 1990, "Smoke" (as he was then called) was one of the best pitchers in baseball.
During this span, he pitched over 250 innings and won 20 or more games in each season.
In 1989 Stewart reached the pinnacle of his career. He was named an All-Star, and in the Athletics' second of three consecutive trips to the World Series, Dave started two of the four games. He pitched a complete game in one of the starts, had an ERA of 1.69 in the Series, and was named the World Series MVP.
Guess who he ate alive in that World Series? My favorite team, of course—the Giants. Talk about mixed feelings.
As I sat with my step-dad watching the pregame show for Game Three of the 1989 World Series, my television shook as did the camera trained on Al Michaels and Jim Palmer. The infamous Loma Prieta earthquake postponed Game Three for 10 days and had a direct effect on Stewart's stats and MVP award.
Smoke would not have pitched a second game if there had been a sweep and no quake. Only the 10-day layoff allowed him to pitch both Game One and Three.
In the last of Stewart's four consecutive 20-plus-win seasons, 1990, he not only had 22 victories, Smoke also no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays. It was the first no-hitter by an African-American pitcher in 17 years.
He went on to win the American League Championship Series MVP the same year and received the honor again four years later while playing for the Blue Jays.
Stewart spent two years in Toronto before returning to his home town to play his last major league season in 1995 for the A's.
Today, Stewart resides in San Diego, Calif., and is quite active in his community as he has long been. Recently, he teamed up with Matt Kemp of the Dodgers to host a fundraiser benefiting autism research.
Dave Stewart remains my favorite pitcher.