KANSAS CITY—Art Stewart, now 80 years young, happens to share the same birthdate, Feb. 6, as Babe Ruth.
“That must have meant I was supposed to be in baseball,” Stewart said.
It certainly seems that way. Stewart has spent 54 years in professional baseball and is entering his 39th season with the Royals. To recognize all he has done in a life in the game, Stewart is this year’s winner of the Roland Hemond Award for his work in scouting and player development.
Stewart, who is now a senior adviser to the general manager, was Royals scouting director from 1985 to 1997. In that period, he drafted more than 70 players who made it to the majors, including Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Bo Jackson, Tom Gordon, Kevin Appier, Jeff Conine, Mike Sweeney, Joe Randa, Jon Lieber, Michael Tucker, Brian McRae, Brent Mayne and Mike Macfarlane.
But it all began with his own dreams on the field. Stewart was the starting shortstop for four years and the captain his junior and senior years at Carl Schurz High in Chicago. When he graduated he was offered a minor league contract at $100 a month by Hall of Famer George Sisler, then a scout with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“It broke my heart to turn it down because I was an only son and I had to get a regular year-round job to help support my widowed mother, who was striving to pay for our home,” Stewart said.
Instead, Stewart assembled and managed an amateur team in his spare time in the late 1940s and early 1950s. From that team, 26 players signed pro contracts over a four-year period, including Jim Bouton, who would develop into a 21-game winner in 1963 for the Yankees.
“We were called the Chicago Yankees and one year I lost one of my major sponsors, so I called someone I knew in the Yankees front office asking for help with uniforms,” Stewart said. “So the Yankees sent me some discarded pinstripe uniforms that they had.
“We ripped off the ‘NYY’ on the front and replaced it with ‘CY,’ for Chicago Yankees. Now these were the same uniforms that Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto had worn in games. We wore those uniforms in Chicago until they were thin and threadbare. Can you imagine what those uniforms would be worth today on the collectible market?”
While he never became a collector of memorabilia, Stewart’s eye for collecting talent caught the eye of Yankees Midwest scout Fred Hassleman, who offered him a part-time scouting job in 1953.
“And my long journey looking for diamonds in the rough began,” Stewart said. “In those years, there was no draft, so we would hide players. Not that many knew about Bouton, so I would pitch him in games at penitentiaries, like Joliet, so no other scout could possibly see him throw.”
After 17 years with the Yankees, Stewart left in 1969 to join the fledgling Royals. “I may have never left the Yankees,” he said. “They were a first-class organization, in the World Series nearly every year and always in contention in the American League.
But when CBS bought the team after the 1964 season, Stewart said the organization began to operate differently. The pursestrings were drawn, and the team fell in the standings. “Those were the dark ages of Yankees history,” he said.
Stewart would serve as the Midwest scouting supervisor for 15 years with the Royals before becoming the scouting director in 1985.
“We had the best owner, Ewing Kauffman, that anybody could ever hope to work for,” Stewart said. “He wanted to win and hired excellent baseball people for the front office and did not interfere with our decisions. He trusted his baseball people that he had hired.
“We became the most successful expansion franchise in the history of baseball.”
The Royals made the playoffs seven times from 1976 to 1985, including defeating the Cardinals to win the 1985 World Series and losing to the Phillies in the 1980 World Series.
“Now a new franchise, like the Arizona Diamondbacks or Florida Marlins, can spend millions on free agents to win a World Series,” Stewart said. “We didn’t have that luxury. We did it the old-fashioned way in Kansas City.”
When the Royals became a dominant team in the AL for more than a decade, it was with homegrown players like George Brett, Dennis Leonard, Paul Splittorff, Bret Saberhagen, Al Cowens, Mark Gubicza, Danny Jackson or Steve Busby. They also developed talent through an innovative academy at their spring training base, and used their scouts to make shrewd trades for players like Darrell Porter and John Mayberry.
Stewart was there every step of the way, and even as he has stepped out of the scouting director role, his scouting acumen has served the organization. In 1985, he selected University of Mississippi third baseman Deric Ladnier in the eighth round. Ladnier never made it to the majors as a player, but he has been the Royals’ scouting director since August 2000.