Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

DICK HART


      If you coached a little league team in the World Series and needed a solid backup backstop and steady hitting right fielder, you had to have Hart.  If you coached a team at Morristown, PA High School and you needed a power hitting slugger to hit home runs, a bruising running back to drag tacklers into the end zone or a shot putter to heave an iron ball further than any high schooler in Pennsylvania ever had before, then you needed Dick Hart. If you managed a minor league baseball team and you needed a big and tall first baseman, then you needed Hart.  And,  if your quarterback needed a strong steady blocker, you really wanted Dick Hart on your offensive line.

This is the story of a multi-sport high school star from Morristown, Pennsylvania, who spent the summer of 1962 in Dublin, Georgia playing baseball for the Dublin Braves.  His name is Dick Hart. And, it was his own heart which made Dick Hart work even harder to become one of the few players in the history of the NFL to become a starter with no college experience.

Dick Hart was born in 1943 and grew up in Morristown, Pennsylvania on the Delaware River.  In the summer of 1955, Dick played right field and caught for the all stars of the local little league. Just before school started back that fall, Dick and his teammates defeated a team from nearby Delaware, New Jersey to capture the Little League World Series.

Dick was born into an athletic family. His brothers Lew and Bob were stars at Morrisville High too. A large kid for his age, Dick’s six foot-two inch, 245-pound frame and dominating strength allowed  him to excel at the high school level.   Hart worked hard at weight lifting to build his body into a bone-crushing running back and a very, very good shot putter.

Dick, like his two brothers before him, won local and state championships in shot put competition.  Dick won the state title twice. His best throw of 64-feet, 3-inches was a state record and put him near the top of all high school track and field athletes in the country.  Track coaches around the nation salivated at the thought of signing the behemoth to a track scholarship.  Kansas State offered Dick a chance to keep doing what he did best.  Notre Dame wanted Dick to anchor their struggling offensive line.  Considered by many old timers as the best athlete to ever hail from his community as an All American track star and member of his state’s Track Hall of Fame, Dick went with his heart’s desire and that was baseball.  He signed a professional contract with Milwaukee Braves.

Dick’s first assignment came with the Wellsville, New York team of the Class D,  New York - Penn League under Manager Bill Steinecke.   The following season, Steinecke, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees in his youth,  was assigned to Milwaukee’s newest farm team, the Dublin Braves of the Georgia-Florida League.  In the middle of the season, Steinecke acquired Hart from the Cedar Rapids, where Hart was having a decent season.

The Dublin Braves fielded an excellent team during in 1962,  their first and only season.  Playing for the Braves that summer were  future major leaguers, Jim Driscoll, Glen Clark, Hal Haydel, and Bill Robinson, the latter of whom played and coached in the major leagues for nearly
forty years.

After an inauspicious debut in the field for the Braves, Hart, normally a catcher, ripped 3 home runs and slapped a double in his debut in Lovett Park.  Dick kept up a slugging barrage much to the delight of the Braves’ fans.  In  only  13 games,  the massive first baseman smacked seven  home runs, two doubles and one triple, while driving in   24 runs and posting an eye-popping .360 average.

Dick Hart had one of  the best of his nine minor assignments in Dublin.  Hart, playing at first base and behind the plate, belted 12 home runs, batted .301 and drove in 46 runs in 46 games, Hart posted career season highs in batting average and slugging percentage (.584.)  Hart and his teammates made local history on August 24, 1962 when they played the last minor league game in Dublin’s Lovett Park.  Hart caught the last pitch and hit the last home run at doomed stadium.   Ironically, the Dublin Braves franchise folded, despite a second place finish and setting an all time park season attendance record.

Dick Hart moved up to Boise, where he played a complete season in Class A, before  ending his career with two split seasons with Yakima and Austin in 1964 and 1965.

Burned out from the rigor of playing nearly every day and traveling in undependable buses and living in sketchy quarters, Hart began to rethink a career in football.  His NCAA eligibility having elapsed, Dick wrote Philadelphia Eagle coach Joe Kuharich, who, as a recruiter for Notre Dame, knew all to well of Dick’s heart and desire to play the game.  Coach Kuharich signed his former recruit to a contract for the 1966 season, all without the benefit of a tryout.  First playing on the defensive line of the Eagles taxi squad, Dick continued to live in the gym to become even stronger.  Hart’s hard work paid off when he was named by “Strength and Health” magazine as one of the strongest football players in the NFL.

In his first year on the offensive line, Dick battled his way to a starting spot as a guard on the Eagles starting lineup.  His outstanding play led to his being named to the NFL’s All Rookie Team - not bad for a man who had not played any college football or a single regular season game since the autumn of 1960.

“Making the team without any college experience, that was a big thrill for me,” said Hart. “I made the All-Rookie team, but I would say my greatest thrill was beating the Dallas Cowboys my first year in ’67. That’s when they had (defensive stars) Bob Lilly, and Jethro Pugh, and Lee Roy
Jordan, Chuck Howley and George Andrie. They were always a powerhouse back then, so that was an awfully big thrill for me, ” Hart told Jim Gehman of the Philadelphiaeagles.com..

A knee injury in pre-season forced Hart out of the starting line up in 1971.  Although he worked his heart out to return to the starting line up, the Eagles traded Dick to the Buffalo Bills for the 1972 season.  A second knee injury in the fourth game of the season, forced Dick to leave the NFL and return to his family ice-cream business, Sweet Hart’s Ice Cream and Yogurt.

When the World Football League was established, Dick once again put on his pads and jersey one last time, this time for the Charlotte Stars in 1974.  After a thirty plus year career in the ice cream business Hart retired to be closer to his family.

Throughout Dick Hart’s twenty something year athletic career he never moped when the odds were against him.  Dick Hart kept his hope and broke through seemingly slammed shut doors to realize his dreams to become a hero on the athletic fields.  Those dreams came true through hard work and unceasing determination.  Born with a super, large, athletic body, in the end all Dick Hart really needed was heart.  And he had it.   

No comments: