I will forever see Art Stewart in Las Vegas, baseball winter meetings, cocktail waitresses rushing by, Sinatra crooning “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” over the loudspeaker (“Donna and I saw him at the Golden Nugget, front row!” he would say), sportswriters randomly moving around the casino like electric football pieces, dice rolling, blackjacks turning, bells ringing, coins jingling, glasses clinking, propositions being made, and a parade of baseball people wandering over to pay their respects to this little guy standing on his little piece of carpet.
“Art,” they would begin, or “Artie,” or “Arthur” (Lasorda always called him Arthur) or “Stew” or “Mr. Stewart,” and then they would ask what he’d heard because, somehow, he always heard everything before anybody else.
“What about that thing in Baltimore?” they’d ask.
“Dead,” Art would say.
“Really? What about the Rangers thing?”
“I hear they’re looking for another prospect,” Art would say.
By then, I had known Art Stewart for many years … I cannot tell you how many times we had gotten together so I could listen to him tell stories. Art always had the best stories, particularly from the rough and tumble days of Chicago scouting, before Major League Baseball had a draft. So many of those stories flood back now, too many to recount, but one I will share is that he said every scout in Chicago wore a jacket, no matter how warm it was. Do you know why? It was in case the scout was lucky enough to get into a prospect’s home.
Then, the scout would find the phone, take it off the hook, and cover it with the jacket so that none of the other teams’ scouts could call in and wreck your chances of signing the kid.
When I see Art Stewart in my memory, I always see him wearing a jacket.
Point is, by the time I saw Art Stewart in Las Vegas at the 2008 winter meetings, I knew full well that he was a bona fide baseball legend. He was born in 1927, a pretty famous baseball year, and he was always quick to tell you that he was born on Babe Ruth’s birthday. It was meant to be.
That’s the Art Stewart story — meant to be. The first baseball game he ever saw live, the hometown White Sox beat Cleveland 1-0 when they got to Bob Feller in the 11th.
There’s a funny detail about that game that tells you a little something about Art. He remembered every detail so vividly — Art’s memory was one of the world’s true wonders. No kidding. People with the Royals would constantly yell to Art questions like, “Hey, what round what Shane Victorino drafted?” and Art would without hesitation say, “Dodgers, sixth round, 1999.”
And Art remembered in his first game, Luke Appling homered off Feller in the 11th inning. He remembered Luke Appling homering, and people waving their straw hats in the air.
Only, Luke Appling didn’t homer off Feller that day. The White Sox scored the winning run on a Mike Kreevech single that scored pitcher Eddie Smith. I’m sure the straw hats were waving. But Appling never homered off Feller.
Now, you ask: What difference does it make? And the answer is: No difference at all except for this — all his life, Art Stewart saw the world in bright colors and bright lights and Luke Appling game-winning homers and young baseball players who were sure to become the next Mickey Mantle, the next Henry Aaron, the next Roberto Clemente.
I never told him that I’d looked up the game. It was perfect that he remembered it that way.
“That feeling when you see a player that has it all,” he told me. “Your whole body can feel it. The hairs on your arm stand up. Your heart beats faster. Nothing in the world like that, I’m telling you.”
He played some ball, could really run, but his father died when he was 5, and there was no time for chasing frivolous dreams. He went to work for the Chicago Parks Department. But on the weekends, he played for his own semi-pro team that he sacrilegiously called the Chicago Yankees. His first scouting trips were for his own Yankees.
And then, in 1953, he was hired by the other Yankees, the New York ones. And, crazily, that’s what led to him marrying Donna. She was Donna Wakely in 1961 when she showed up at the Elgin, a semi-pro baseball tournament in Chicago. You will not be surprised to hear that there were not many young, single women who came out to the Elgin just to play ball — but Donna and Art were made for each other.
Then, for once, another scout saw the prospect first — Nick Kamzic was a war hero and a brilliant scout who, earlier that year, had been the very first hire by Gene Autry, the owner of the brand new Los Angeles Angels. Stewart and Kamzic had battled for player after player through the years. Kamzic approached Donna and tried to impress her by offering his Angels’ baseball credentials.
“There’s only one team,” Donna said with a little edge to her voice. “The New York Yankees.”
Kamzic, defeated, pointed out Art Stewart. “There’s the Yankees scout,” he said.
Art and Donna were married six months later. They would be married for 47 years. Kamzic was best man at the wedding.
So, yes, I knew he was a legend, knew he’d lived this wonderful, winding, wondrous baseball life. He signed Jim Bouton and, for that, is referenced by name in Ball Four (Art knew the page number he was on — both in the hardcover and paperback). He signed Norm Siebert by getting his mother a stove. He signed Kevin Seitzer by a cornfield. He drafted Bo Jackson.
But it wasn’t until I saw him in his kingdom, at the winter meetings, with everybody knowing his name, with seemingly all of Vegas swirling around him, that I truly understood what that meant. It was a bittersweet day. Donna had died of cancer earlier that year. She was such a force in his life, that there were those who felt sure he would miss the winter meetings for the first time in more than 40 years.
But Art knew that she would have wanted him there.
So there he was, taking it all in, catching up on the latest rumors without ever leaving his piece of carpet. The carpet part is important: One thing Art had learned after years of stalking the winter meetings was that if you stand on hard floors for even a short while, your feet start to hurt. And when your feet start to hurt, you lose focus. And when you lose focus, you start making bad decisions.
Art was utterly convinced that some of the bad trades made at the winter meetings through the years could be attributed to sore feet.
“Look at ’em,” he would say about all those poor saps who were standing on the marble floor rather than the carpet. “They’re dropping like flies!”
I cannot begin to tell you how often I think of this advice.
I saw Art many more times after that … he lived on. He was there in New York in 2015 when the Royals won the World Series. He was there in Surprise, Ariz., for Royals spring training. He was there at more winter meetings.
He found another life after Donna. If you think the story of Art and Donna is incredible, then you should hear the story of Art and Rosemary. They first met in 1958 at a small Lutheran church in Chicago, and they instantly fell in love. But it wasn’t meant to be. He was 12 years older than her and lived the itinerant life of a scout. They saw no future together.
After Donna died, Art was in Chicago visiting his daughter … and they went to the same Lutheran church. And Rosemary was there. And they fell in love all over again. They were married. And Art spent the rest of his life with Rosemary.
That life ended Wednesday night. He was 94 years old, the same age as his longtime friend Buck O’Neil when he passed away. Buck always used to say that you should never cry for people who get to live the lives they wanted to live … and so there are no tears for Art Stewart today. He lived his best life. I miss him. All of us miss him. But he left us so many memories, so many stories, so many lessons. Stand on the carpet. Wear a jacket. Be hopeful. Believe.
“As long as I’ve got my health,” he said, “I want to be around the game. … You never know what you’ll find tomorrow. Somebody found Ty Cobb, right?”