Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Shoeless" Marlin Stuart pitched barefoot

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

In 1940 Marlin Stuart closed out his rookie season in pro ball in fine form – if not exactly in fine style.

Pitching for the fourth-place Mayfield Browns in the Class D Kitty League, Stuart defeated the Fulton Tigers on Sept. 5. The next day he approached manager Bennie Tate and said he would like to pitch the final game of the season a day later, and moreover, he would like to pitch it “natural.”

When Tate asked the 21-year-old what he meant by “natural,” Stuart replied, “I want to pitch one more game barefooted. That’s the way I pitched before I came to Mayfield.”

So, minus shoes or socks, Stuart took the mound for the second game of the Sept. 7 doubleheader, pitching the Browns to a 5-2 win over Fulton in seven innings. He struck out 11 and allowed seven hits, bringing his season record to 13-14.

“I can just naturally pitch better when I can feel the diamond dust oozing between my toes,” Stuart explained.

St. Louis Browns scouts had found Stuart pitching on the sandlots around his home near Paragould, Arkansas and signed him for the 1940 season. Prior to making his debut with Mayfield, Stuart told Tate that he had never seen a pair of baseball spikes and had never pitched off a rubber toe plate.

Stuart’s shoeless outing is immortalized in a photo in the Sept. 19, 1940, issue of The Sporting News, headlined “Sheds His Shoes to Pitch”.

With three years lost to military service in World War II, Stuart did not pitch in the major leagues until 1949, at age 30, splitting the 1949-50 seasons between the Detroit Tigers and their AAA Toledo farm club. With the Mud Hens on June 27, 1950, Stuart pitched a perfect game, defeating Indianapolis 1-0.

In August, 1952, Stuart was one of four Tigers traded to St. Louis for four Brownies. In 1953, the Browns last season in St. Louis, when the team lost 100 games, Stuart was the only Browns pitcher with a winning (8-2) record.

Stuart moved with the team to Baltimore for 1954 and on July 4 was waived to the Yankees, with whom he closed out his major league days with a record of 23-17 and an ERA of 4.65.

After two more years in the minor leagues, bringing his career minor-league record to 91-79, Stuart retired following the 1956 season.

He farmed around his native Paragould, Ark., and was a heavy equipment operator. In 1980 he suffered an aneurysm and stroke and became confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak, until his death in 1994.

In a 1954 Sporting News article, Ted Williams cited Stuart as the toughest pitcher he had to face. Williams was 3-for-16 (.188) against Stuart with no extra base hits, walking five times and striking out three times.

Despite playing his entire major league career during the Topps-Bowman “card wars” years, Stuart has only three mainstream bubblegum cards: 1952 Topps and Bowman and 1953 Bowman.

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