If you were asked the question, “Who is the last black pitcher to have multiple 20 win seasons,” would you be able to provide an answer? Some would take a shot and say C.C. Sabathia. Close, as C.C. did win 21 games in 2010 and almost achieved the feat in the previous season by winning 19. How about David Price? Along with Sabathia, Price is considered to be one of the top hurlers in the game, however he has only met the mark in 2012. Dontrelle Willis? Close, but strike three. The hurler is the only other African-American pitcher to win 20 games in nearly a 25-year span when he did it with the Florida Marlins in 2005. Here's a bonus strike four- Dwight Gooden eclipsed the 20 win plateau only once when he won 24 games with the Mets in 1985.
To put this into perspective, in the history of Major League Baseball only five black pitchers have eclipsed the 20 wins mark multiple times in a career. Two of the five are in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ferguson Jenkins, who did it on seven occasions winning more than 250 games in a 14 year career, and Bob Gibson, who did it five times in a span of only six years. Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who was the first black pitcher to even win 20 (1951), and Vida Blue of the Oakland Athletics during the 1970’s, each reached the achievement three times. But there is one player who bridged the gap between the old school and the new, one whose name seems to escape the minds of many.
Dave Stewart, also of the Oakland Athletics, was one of the most dominant pitchers of his time. A native of Northern California, Stewart couldn't have been more thrilled than to be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 16th round of the 1975 amateur draft. However success would not come quickly. Stewart would be forced to buy his time in the minors and wait for his call-up a distant six years later. From 1981 to 1985, he would bounce around the league with stints in Los Angeles, Texas, and Philadelphia—at times starting and at other times as a reliever. During the 1986 season, while with the Philadelphia Phillies, Stewart fell below expectations and was cut, the lowest point of his professional career. At the time the knock on him was he was all power and no finesse as he did not have an effective off-speed pitch in his repertoire.
Is wasn't long before the Oakland A’s decided to take a chance on the then 29-year old pitcher, signing him for the remainder of the '86 season. Stewart would regain his confidence and post a record of 9-5 with a 3.74 ERA. From this point forward, “Smoke” was born. With a revered menacing scowl that became his signature look, Stewart went on an epic four-year run, becoming one of the best pitchers in the game. From 1987 to 1990, he would win 20 games in each season including a career best ERA in 1990 of 2.56 with a record of 22-11.
In 1989 Stewart reached the pinnacle of his career as he was named an All-Star, and in the second of three consecutive trips to the World Series, he started two of the four games, including throwing a gem in the opener. Stewart threw a complete game shutout that set the tone for the A’s in route to winning a ninth title for the franchise. In the end he would finally receive his due and was named World Series MVP, posing an ERA of 1.69.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the World Series title for Stewart and the A’s. Who would have ever thought that during this time he would be considered the ‘last dealer’ of a group known as the Black Aces, a term derived from the book of baseball’s only African-American 20-game winners, written by former major leaguer, and group member, Mudcat Grant.
Sure, there have been three to achieve the lofty goal since Stewart, but no one has remotely come close to the man called "Smoke". #RESPECT