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Perrotto: It Would be Difficult to Ever Match Dick Groat’s Legacy

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Dick Groat was a voice on the radio for two generations of Pittsburgh sports fans.

Groat served as the color commentator on Pitt basketball radio broadcasts from 1979-2019. He teamed with Bill Hillgrove to form one of the longest-running broadcast duos in American sports.

It is almost certain that Groat arrived at the pearly gates Thursday after he died at 92 insisting that Pitt never got a fair shake from the officials. He was that loyal to the Panthers.

Yet while younger fans generally assumed Groat was a Pitt alumnus, he had no ties to the university before putting on the headphones.

The older generation remembers Groat for much more than his radio work.

The Wilkinsburg native and Swissvale High School graduate was one the greatest athletes ever produced by Western Pennsylvania. Maybe THE greatest.

Groat was a two-time All-American guard in basketball at Duke University, where he averaged 26 points in his senior season and was the national player of the year. That was 26 points a game before the three-point line was invented and the bonus free throw rule was instituted.

It is not a stretch to think Groat would average 30 points in today’s game.

Once basketball season ended, Groat led Duke’s baseball team to the College World Series.

Groat was the third overall pick in the 1952 NBA Draft by the Fort Wayne Pistons. He played 26 games for the Pistons before entering the United States Army.

Groat had played 95 games for the Pirates as a rookie earlier in 1952, hitting a team-high .286 for a club that posted a franchise-worst 42-112 record. The Pirates immediately put Groat into their lineup as the shortstop after he graduated from Duke.

When Groat was discharged from the Army in 1955, he was convinced by Pirates general manager Branch Rickey to become a full-time baseball player. It was not an easy choice for Groat, who admitted that basketball was his first love.

However, baseball worked out just fine for Groat. He played in the major leagues for 14 seasons and hit .286 in 1,929 games with the Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants before retiring following the 1967 season. Groat also played in eight All-Star Games.

The highlight of Groat’s career came in 1960 while with the Pirates. He was voted the National League’s MVP award after winning the batting title with a .325 average. The Pirates upset the Yankees in seven games in the World Series for the franchise’s first championship since 1925.

Groat also never spent a day in the minor leagues.

“I guess Mr. Rickey was right after all,” Groat once told me.

Groat even made his mark in the golfing world. He owned Champion Lakes Golf Resort in Bolivar, one of the finest public courses in Pennsylvania.

Groat’s last accolade came just two weeks ago when the Pirates announced he would be part of the club’s second Hall of Fame class that will be inducted Aug. 26. Sadly, Groat won’t be there at PNC Park to be honored with former teammates Elroy Face and Bob Friend as well as Kent Tekulve.

Groat was Bo Jackson before Bo Knows and Deion Sanders before Prime Time. Groat never achieved their status in pop culture as he was the product of a different era.

However, Groat will always be a Pittsburgh sports icon. He was beloved by many not just for his athletic feats but because he was generous with his time and kind to everyone.

I remember covering some college basketball at the Beaver County Times early in my career before I became the Pirates’ beat writer. Groat couldn’t have been nicer to me and made me feel welcome whenever I covered Pitt. It was a treat to see him when he would visit either Three Rivers Stadium or PNC Park over the years.

Groat lived quite the life and leaves behind an unmatched legacy.

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