There are certain figures in baseball history whose impact is hard to definitely nail down, or who were much more impactful than what the average fan may realize. This is true for those who work in the front office, and especially true for men like Art Stewart, a pillar in the Kansas City Royals community.
Stewart, a man short in stature, but large in impact, passed away on the morning of November 11 at the age of 94.
Who is Art Stewart, you ask?
Stewart was born on October 6, 1927, which coincidentally was the 32nd birthday of Babe Ruth. Two days later, Ruth and the Yankees’ “Murderer’s Row” would polish off a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, capping off a year that Ruth hit a record 60 home runs.
A Journey Foretold
As Stewart recounted in 2014, “my mother said, ‘You know, you’re going to be in professional baseball someday.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, Mom?’ She said, ‘Because you were born on Feb. 6, Babe Ruth‘s birthday.”
His mother turned out to be right. In 1953, more than 15 years before the Royals even came into existence, Stewart began his professional baseball career, but not as a player. He was hired by Ruth’s old team, the New York Yankees, as a scout, which kicked off a scouting career that lasted nearly 70 years.
With the Yankees, his most famous story involved that of infamous pitcher Jim Bouton, who grew up in Chicago, which also was also Stewart’s hometown. In the 1950s, Stewart also ran a semi-pro team which was often stocked with college talent that suited up over summer vacations.
Bouton was a talented pitcher that Stewart wanted to sign for the Yankees (in the era before the MLB Draft), but for a year, Bouton’s father didn’t want him to sign, instead wanting him to continue his studies (and baseball career) at Western Michigan University. Stewart, not wanting any other scouts to get a crack at Bouton, came up with an ingenious plan.
For an entire summer, Stewart only pitched Bouton in games played in penitentiaries, where the concrete walls and barbed wire not only kept the opposition inside, it kept competing scouts out. As the story goes, Stewart finally signed Bouton over Thanksgiving dinner in 1958.
Another notable discovery of his was Fritz Peterson, a hard-throwing left-hander signed he signed in 1963. Peterson wound up being the ace of some forgettable Yankees teams in the late ’60s and early ’70s, winning 133 games. While he was an All-Star pitcher, his legacy was for something a little…different.
As Stewart quipped decades later, “I signed baseball’s most successful wife-swapper.”
Trading Pinstripes For Royal Blue
In 1969, Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, one of which of course was the Kansas City Royals. Owner Ewing Kauffman and general manager Cedric Tallis hired Stewart away from the Yankees, beginning a love affair between Stewart and the Royals organization that lasted until his dying day.
Stewart embraced the challenge of helping build a franchise from the ground up, and he spent the first 16 years of his Royals career on the road scouting the Midwest. In 1984, he became the Royals scouting director, which is where some of his most notable work was done.
One of his most notable selections was in the 1986 MLB Draft. At the time, the Royals had a relationship with a recent Auburn University graduate that dated back to his high school days, but many believed he was bound for greener pastures elsewhere. Stewart was bullish though, so after a few rounds on draft day had passed, he made the following declaration:
“The franchise is not going to fold on a fourth-round pick, so I told New York, ‘The Kansas City Royals select outfielder Vincent Edward Jackson, better known as Bo.” As Stewart recounted on the ESPN 30-for-30 about said outfielder, “You could’ve heard a pin drop on the other side.”
And so, Heisman Trophy-winning running back Bo Jackson instead became a Kansas City Royal, packing a 20-year career’s worth of awe-inspiring highlights into just five-and-a-half seasons in Royal blue. That wasn’t the extent of Stewart’s drafting prowess, though.
He drafted Kevin Appier, arguably the greatest pitcher in franchise history, in the first round in 1987. In 1991, he found a high school catcher in the 10th round. That turned out to be Mike Sweeney. The very next round he snagged Joe Randa. The next year he landed Johnny Damon. In 1995, he used a second-round pick to draft Carlos Beltran, likely the best player ever drafted by Stewart.
After stepping back around the turn of the millennium, the Royals maintained one tradition: their final draft pick (usually in the 50th round) was made by Stewart. In 2006, Stewart, who was then 78 years old, noticed one scouting report that noted a player’s 80-grade speed. In scouting, a player with an “80” grade in any category is a kind of Holy Grail, so Stewart figured if he can snag any 80-grade talent in the 50th round, he was going to do it.
That 80-grade speed belonged to Jarrod Dyson, who as you may know scored the game-winning run in the decisive Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, as well as swiping probably the most important stolen base in Royals history in the Wild Card Game the year before.
More than 15 years later, Dyson is still in the majors at age 37. It seems very possible that if Stewart hadn’t seen that report and pulled the trigger, Dyson may have never played professional baseball at all and the story of the 2014-15 Royals may have looked very different as a result.
A Gentleman Like Few Others
In 2017, I had the opportunity to serve as a Media Relations Intern with the Royals organization. In this role, I was often in the press box at Kauffman Stadium, which afforded me the opportunity to meet Art Stewart on a few occasions.
At this point in time, Stewart was 89 years old and needed a cane to move around, but even then, Stewart commanded the attention of every person he came in contact with. Whenever he entered the press box, you were liable to hear more than a few people crying out, “Hey, Art!” and he would in turn entertain them with a story of years past, or something else.
I introduced myself to him one time, though I didn’t see him for several days afterwards. When I said hello the second time, Stewart responded with a jovial, “Hello, Brennan, how are you?” and a firm handshake. A man nearing 90 years old who had to have met a truly staggering amount of people in his lifetime had remembered the name of me, a lowly intern.
He told me he was looking forward to getting back in his car and heading out to the Southeast to look at some potential draft prospects ahead of that June’s draft. Even though his listed position was merely an advisory role to Dayton Moore, he still itched to get on the road and uncover the next Bo Jackson or Kevin Appier or Jarrod Dyson.
Unfortunately, a health issue wound up forcing Stewart to spend most of that 2017 season at home. More than once, I remembered talking with someone else, whether it be a club employee or member of the media, and they remarked how it wasn’t the same without Art around.
Stewart was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 2008, but for those who knew him, that accomplishment pales in comparison to what they remember of him as a person. His legacy looms large, not just in helping transform the Royals from nothing into a powerhouse in the 70’s and 80’s, not just in the players whose plaques hang beside his in the Royals Hall of Fame, or not even in the Royals Dominican Academy he helped found and whose name graces the facility there.
His legacy is all the people he touched through baseball and the Kansas City Royals. As longtime Royals Vice President of Communications Mike Swanson put it in a tweet this morning, “His knowledge of the game was only surpassed by his kindness and heart of gold. God Bless you, Art.”
God Bless you, indeed Art Stewart. Rest in peace.
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images