A catcher in high school, as well as a start football player with multiple college scholarship offers to his name, Dave Stewart was selected in the 16th round (384th overall) of the 1975 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. However, Stewart would never see a single inning behind the plate, as the Dodgers saw something in his arm and opted to change him into a pitcher.
Stewart would make his MLB debut three years later, working a single inning of relief in what would be his only cup of coffee that season. He would remain in the minors for two more seasons before, out of minor league options, he made the team out of Spring Training and worked exclusively out of the bullpen in 1981. The results were encouraging, as Stewart posted a record of 4-3 with a 2.49 ERA and a 1.246 WHIP over 43.1 innings.
Stewart would get his first taste of the starting rotation in 1982 but ultimately bounced between starting and relieving for much of the season, making 45 appearances (14 starts). He would finish the season 9-8 with a 3.81 ERA and a 1.271 WHIP. After returning to a primary relief role in 1983, the Dodgers flipped Stewart to the Texas Rangers along with Ricky Wright in exchange for future teammate and forme Dodgers’ pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
Stewart would struggle in Texas and after enduring some issues with fans, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, who ultimately released him a few months later. After his release from the Phillies, Stewart was signed to a minor league deal by the Oakland Athletics. The rest, as they say, is history.
Stewart would only appear in one minor league game for the A’s before returning to the Major Leagues in 1986. In 29 games for Oakland (17 starts), Stewart would begin to round into form, going 9-5 with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.353 WHIP.
However, the best was yet to come for Dave Stewart, in what may have been one the best four-year runs of his generation.
From 1987 through 1990, Dave Stewart would win 20 or more games in each season, going a combined 84-45 with a 3.20 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.241 WHIP, and 41 complete games. Over that four-year stretch, Stewart would accumulate 18 of his career 27.4 fWAR, going from a castaway to the highest-paid player in baseball after signing a two-year, $7 million extension in 1989.
The true crime of the situation is that Stewart would not win a single Cy Young award despite his efforts. He finished third in 1987 (behind Roger Clemens and Jimmy Key), fourth in 1988 (Frank Viola, Dennis Eckersley, and Mark Gubicza, second in 1989 (Bret Saberhagen), and third again in 1990 (Bob Welch and Clemens).
Stewart would return to earth a bit in 1991 and beyond, timing the end of his dominance with that of the A’s team he played for. He would spend two seasons in Toronto before returning to Oakland and retiring following the 1995 season.
Given the early struggles during his career, there is no way that the Dodgers could have foreseen Stewart’s run of dominance. His lack of eye-popping strike-out numbers (6.0 K/9 lifetime) would have likely held him back in any organization. It wasn’t until he learned the forkball in Oakland’s system that he became a groundball machine and a Cy Young candidate.
Of course, he still had his ties to Dodgers’ history. On June 29, 1990, Stewart no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays. A few hours later, Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers would throw his own no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, marking the first and only time that pitchers in both the AL and the NL threw no-hitters on the same day.