A HERO LIVES HERE

A's ace Dave Stewart was the Series MVP, but in Oakland he's much more than that
November 06, 1989

Just hours after getting the win in Game 3 of the World Series, Dave Stewart of the Oakland A's stood at a wire fence and stared up at the ugly wreckage of the Nimitz Freeway, which has become such a familiar image to people across the country. Stewart's late-night visits to this site had become something of a habit since Oct. 17, when the Bay Area earthquake struck, collapsing this roadway and killing 39 people; that first night, he stayed on the scene until 4:30 in the morning. After pitching the A's past the San Francisco Giants last Friday night, he arrived at the Nimitz after midnight, went home to sleep for a while and then returned again at 10 o'clock on Saturday morning.

"The police let me go in near the workers," said Stewart upon his return, as he gazed at the ruins. "I just stand and watch and try to boost the spirits of those people working all night, the people trying to find bodies and cleaning up the rubble. Some nights I didn't plan to be here, but when I couldn't get to sleep, I'd drive over and stand for an hour or two, then go home and go right to sleep. I haven't figured out why I'm drawn here, except that for me this isn't something to gawk at like a tourist. This is part of my life."

A few hours later, Stewart would board the bus for the A's final ride of the season. That evening they would complete their sweep of the Giants, and Stewart would be named Most Valuable Player of the Series.

But before leaving for Candlestick Park, Stewart toured the city in which he was born and raised, the city to which he devotes so much of his time. He drove past the Victorian buildings in the old section of Oakland. "This is the area we've been developing, with the city center, the restaurants, the shops, the hotels," he said. "It's going to be beautiful. But, obviously, the progress has been set back dramatically. The destruction and damage here is as great as it was in San Francisco, but Oakland never gets the media attention because we're not glamorous. But besides the highway collapse, the city's biggest department stores had to be closed, city hall may never reopen, and almost 1,000 poor people are homeless because a couple of old hotels collapsed. We've been set back, badly."

Stewart was silent for a long minute as he drove onto Interstate 880 to head toward East Oakland and his old neighborhood. "But we will endure." he said at last. "We will rebuild, and Oakland will be back on its climb."

He pulled up in front of the Ossian Carr Clubhouse, a chipped, chinked, blue-brick building on busy 14th Street. Within a few minutes, more than two dozen people had gathered to ask for his autograph: women, kids, a soccer team from the nearby San Antonio projects. Cars stopped. Drivers tooted their horns; even a couple of city bus drivers beeped. Phil Bridges, who manages Stew's Crew, a softball team funded by Stewart, talked to him about getting a second team organized for next year. Burgess told Stewart they would need $1,100. "No problem," said Stewart. Another man told Stewart that he needed some backing for a soccer team in the projects. Stewart took his card. "I'll get back to you," he said.

It was to this branch of the Oakland Boys' Clubs that Stewart used to come nearly every day until he signed his first professional baseball contract, in 1975. Stewart now has an apartment in Emeryville, a small community between North Oakland and Berkeley, but he still spends much of his time in the old neighborhood, and he seems to know just about everybody. It was past noon when Stewart finished talking and signing and climbed back into his car. Everywhere he drove, he was greeted with beeps and waves. Not far from the baseball field where Stewart and A's teammate Rickey Henderson once played American Legion ball together, a man raking his lawn stopped and raised his fist in a salute as Stewart drove past.

Before this World Series began, San Francisco mayor Art Agnos was asked if he would make a wager on the outcome with Oakland mayor Lionel Wilson. Agnos said. "There's nothing in Oakland that I'd want." As Stewart cruised the neighborhood, he recalled that statement: "When Agnos said that, he spit directly in my face. And my parents' faces. And my friends'." He pointed to another man waving from his yard. "And his. And theirs." He waved to two kids, one of whom doffed his A's cap.

In the eyes of his Oakland neighbors, this World Series belonged to Dave Stewart, and his MVP meant Most Valuable Person. "The A's winning the Series really means something to Oakland," says Wilson, "whereas had the Giants won, it wouldn't really have meant much to San Francisco. And the fact that David Stewart won it for his hometown makes it most important, because David Stewart is the symbol of what Oakland can—and will—be."

Said Stewart, "In a way I feel the way athletes feel at the Olympics when they say they've won for their country. I won those games for my teammates and for myself, but I also won them for my community. I won them for that guy over there, and those kids on the corner, and that elderly woman next to them. I won them for the parks-and-recreation people, the teachers, the police, my Little League coach and all the people who helped shape my character and baseball skills. There are more than 300,000 people in this town who tonight can say, 'We're Number One,' and mean it."

When Stewart arrived at the Oakland Coliseum to catch the bus to Candlestick, a man named Howard Bess was waiting to congratulate him. Bess was Stewart's Little League coach 22 years ago on the baseball fields at the nearby Greenman Baseball Complex. Before the opening game of the Series, one of the fields at the complex was renamed A. Bartlett Giamatti Field. Stewart and Henderson weren't the only future major leaguers to polish their young talent on the baseball fields of Oakland: Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson once played there, as did Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Willie Stargell, Lloyd Moseby, and Gary Pettis. What's more, NBA stars Bill Russell and Paul Silas once played hoops in the neighborhood. "When you look at the people who've come out of Oakland," said Stewart, "you'd think we might have something that Agnos would value."

At Sunday school at the Havenscourt Community Church one day in 1961, four-year-old David Stewart met a boy named Wornel Simpson. "From that moment on, we were best of friends," says Simpson. "When we were in high school, we used to sit at home and dream about the future. I was prone to the books, he was the athlete, but we had a shared dream—to make a lot of money, then use it to help others from our community. Little did we know that someday he'd be a superstar pitcher and I'd be a financial planner, doing just what we always dreamed."

Two years ago, Simpson—who graduated from UC Davis—and Stewart formed a nonprofit organization called Kids-corps, which solicits corporate support for children's causes and for rebuilding neighborhoods. Kidscorps operates support programs for teenage mothers, drug education and learning-deficient children, and it sponsors four Little League teams, two Softball teams, a track team, a dance group and a summer camp.

"In 1982, at Thanksgiving, I donated $500 to the Oakland Parents in Action, the group that started the national Just Say No program," says Stewart. "I found out that $500 could feed 1,000 people. Then Wornel told me he had ways to get us further involved, and that's how it started."

Stewart was active in Oakland while he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Texas Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies, but until he came to the A's in May 1986, his participation was limited. "Back then, he wasn't that well-known. He'd call schools all over the area asking if they wanted him to come talk," says Sister Maggie of St. Elizabeth High, Stewart's alma mater; her desk top in the school's development office is decorated with a collage of Dave Stewart baseball cards and pictures.

But as his reputation grew—thanks to three seasons of 20 or more wins for the Athletics—Stewart's community activities expanded to include work for the Oakland Boys' Clubs, Just Say No, the MS Society, the Oakland Library and several other charitable and civic institutions. "There are hundreds of groups he helps that we don't know about," says Dave Perron, the Athletics' director of community affairs. "They're run by people who come up to Stew on the street to ask for help, and he just can't say no to caring."

"I'm helped by the fact that the A's do more for their community than any other team," says Stewart. "The Haas family [which owns the Athletics] is dedicated to giving. They rebuilt the fields where I used to play ball; they give more than $100,000 a year in tickets to the elderly and poor; they have days where kids get free tickets for donating books to the public schools; they give inner-city kids tickets for scholastic achievement. Everything I'm involved in, they're behind too. In these times that's important, because almost anytime you try to talk to corporations about funding, you get a two-word response: 'We're short.' "

Bob Howard, Stewart's high school baseball coach, compares Stewart's community mission to "a nonsecular ministry." But Stewart describes it differently. "Most of what I do involves kids," he says. "And I think I get more out of it than the kids. All I really want is to be 11 or 12 years old for five hours a day every day for the rest of my life. Kids make me a kid again."

Nathalie Stewart, Dave's mother, has lived in the family house on Havenscourt Boulevard since 1960. It's made of light stucco and has yellow roses growing in front. Dave offered to buy her a new house a couple of years ago. "I told him I didn't want to ever leave this neighborhood," says Nathalie. Until 1973 she worked at the cannery down the block; her husband, David, who died in 1972, was a longshoreman. "My father didn't want me to be a ballplayer," says his namesake. "When I was nine, he told me, 'You can't make a living hitting a ball with a broomstick.' He was a hardworking man. There'd be three-day stretches when we didn't see him if a ship came in, because he wanted to make sure we were provided for: I have five sisters, so I was taught sports by my older brother, Gregory [ now a foreman for a rubber company in Oakland ]."

All around Stewart as he grew up were the sights, sounds and temptations of East Oakland, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Across the street from the Carr clubhouse is the boarded-up former clubhouse of the Black Panthers. Stewart remembers the Panthers in their berets and leather jackets. "A bunch of them used to play basketball and shoot pool there," he says. "They were part of the neighborhood. One night the cops opened fire on my grandmother's house because they thought [ Panther leader] Bobby Seale was hanging out there. My grandmother and aunt were in there, and if you'd seen all the bullet holes through the building, you'd realize it's a miracle they lived." A mile from his house was the headquarters of the Hell's Angels. The Symbionese Liberation Army was also quartered in the neighborhood.

"My circle of friends stayed with our own dreams because we had strong family backgrounds and because we were always playing sports, especially at the Boys' Club," says Stewart. "My parents had strong values of right and wrong.

"I was tempted by the street life. I admit I experimented a little. But every time I got to the brink of getting in trouble, I pulled back. Sure, there was a lot of stuff happening on the street; the projects across 14th Street housed one of the biggest drug operations in the country. But it wasn't hard staying away from drugs or trouble. I had the Boys' Club and sports. There was a heck of a lot more good available to me than there was bad."

"What you see in Stewart is a toughness typical of Oakland kids," says Morgan. "Not just street toughness, but competitive toughness. For every Joe Morgan or David Stewart, there are a dozen guys that were as good who didn't make it. You learn to persevere."

Stewart certainly did. He was 1-8 in his first two professional seasons. He was 7-14 for the Rangers in 1984 and 0-6 for them in '85. He hurt his arm and was released by the Phillies the next year. On July 2, 1986, Tony La Russa, in his first game as the Oakland manager, gave Stewart his first A's start. Stewart beat Roger Clemens that day, and the rest is a 71-34 history, the best record of any pitcher in the game over that span of time. Stewart is the only pitcher in the '80s to win 20 games for three straight years. Yet not until this July did he make the All-Star team, and he has lost out in the Cy Young voting in each of the past two seasons and figures to lose to Bret Saberhagen this year. La Russa says, "It wasn't until this World Series that Stew finally got recognized for what he is."

"The recognition thing bothered me a lot up until last year," says Stewart. "Then when I won 20 the second time and it didn't happen, I accepted that those things might not come." Last winter, when the A's signed Mike Moore, who had had only one winning season, for more money than Stewart was making, Stewart, who was in fact the third-highest-paid pitcher on the Oakland staff this season, never complained. "The team's more important than what I make," he says.

There are any number of reasons for Stewart's lack of recognition, but one in particular haunts him. "I guess the Lucille business was never forgotten," he says. In January 1985, Stewart was arrested in Los Angeles with a prostitute named Lucille, who turned out to be a transvestite. As circumstance would have it, Stewart was scheduled to be honored two days later by the Dallas-Fort Worth baseball writers with their Good Guy award. To the astonishment of everyone, Stewart showed up at the banquet and answered all questions.

"What bothers me is that those who won't forget it are saying one can't ever make a mistake," says Stewart. "I did, and I admit it. I'm ashamed. But if you dig deep enough, you'll find something in everyone that he is ashamed of. If that incident has had something to do with my lack of recognition, I don't care now. Last winter I got back to basics. What is important? Three things: Am I respected by my teammates, am I respected by my community, and am I happy with that? I am."

"Respect is the first word anyone uses about Stew," says A's pitcher Dennis Eckersley. Catcher Terry Steinbach says, "There's just a different feeling when he walks out to pitch. He makes everyone feel good about himself." Says Oakland pitching coach Dave Duncan, "David Stewart is a leader; he gives the other players so much confidence that they play better."

"I spent a lot of days as the eighth and 10th man on staffs," says Stewart, "dreaming about being the Number One guy, pitching in the World Series. Here I am, doing what I always wanted to do."

There are other things he wants to do. Stewart talks a lot about his son, Adrian, 12, and his daughter, Alyse, 7, who live near Los Angeles with his former wife, Vanessa. "Adrian is the light of my life," says Stewart, who sees his children as often as he can. He talks about "getting back to a family situation," but that is for the future. For now, Stewart's concern is raising money for Oakland's recovery. "I've got some fund-raising ideas, and I'm sure the club will have some too," says Stewart, who plans to give a large part of his World Series share to earthquake relief operations. "I also know that I'll get any cooperation I ask for from my teammates."

When Eckersley touched first base to end the Series last Saturday night and Oakland became the baseball capital of the world, Stewart rushed toward the outfield and embraced Henderson, his hometown crony. "We've done it," said Stewart. "We is what this feeling is all about, Rickey, and for you and me at this moment, old friend, we is just a little more special. It's ours."

PHOTORONALD C. MODRAMuch of Stewart's community work benefits kids, including those at his boyhood club. PHOTORONALD C. MODRASince the quake Stewart has been a regular visitor to the ruins of the Nimitz Freeway. PHOTORONALD C. MODRAOn the streets of Oakland, Stewart stays attuned to people's needs. PHOTOJOHN IACONOIn winning the MVP award, Stewart got some overdue recognition.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)