A moderate pitcher for the first half of his career, Stewart grew his wings so to speak when the Oakland A’s brought him to town in 1986. He then kicked off four straight 20-win seasons in Oakland and placed in the Top Five in Cy Young voting in each of his 20-win campaigns. Although he never garnered that elusive award, it can be argued that he was baseball’s best pitcher during the latter portion of the 1980s.
Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1975, Stewart made his Major League debut with a two-inning relief outing in 1978. He spent the next two years toiling with the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes before LA gave the hard-thrower another look in 1981. The Dukes used Dave as a starter but the Dodgers moved him into the bullpen and he enjoyed success as a rookie in 1981 with six saves and a 2.51 ERA. The Dodgers saw postseason action in the strike shortened campaign and Stewart helped the Dodgers defeat the Yankees in the World Series.
The Dodgers used Dave as a long arm and spot starter in 1982 but then swapped him to Texas for southpaw Rick Honeycutt, who would spend a number of years as his teammate in Oakland. The Rangers inserted Dave into their rotation at the end of the ’83 season and he rewarded them by posting a 2.14 ERA in eight starts. The small dose of excellence gave Rangers fans hope for the 1984 season but he struggled with command issues and was traded to the Phillies late in the ’85 season.
After a slow start in Philadelphia in 1986, Stewart was released and picked up by the Oakland Athletics. Like Laurel and Hardy, it was a match made in heaven. He posted a 3.74 ERA the rest of the way for the A’s in 1986 before breaking out in a big way during the 1987 season. Stewart led the AL with 20 wins in 1987 and showed workhorse tendencies by totaling 261 innings pitched while fanning 205 batters. The next four years, Dave would give the A’s at least 250 innings of work each season.
Dave posted a 21-12 record for the A’s in 1988 while pacing the American League in complete games and innings pitched. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting and received a handful of MVP votes to boot but it wasn’t until 1989 that Stewart made his first All-Star team. A member of the World Champion A’s in 1989, Dave went 21-9 for LaRussa’s charges on a 3.32 ERA. At his best that October, Stewart went 4-0 in the Playoffs and tossed a Game 1 shutout in the World Series.
Perhaps at the top of his game in 1990, Stewart tied for the AL lead in complete games while logging a league best 267 innings. He trimmed his ERA to a career best (as far as starting is concerned) 2.56 mark and carried Oakland to their third straight postseason appearance. Dynamite in October, Dave went 2-0 in the ALCS with a tidy 1.13 ERA. His A’s took on the Reds in the World Series and although he kept his ERA down (2.77) he was still charged with a pair of losses due to poor run support.
Stewart’s run of excellence came to a sudden halt in 1991 when his ERA climbed from 2.56 in 1990 to 5.18 in ’91. His ship returned to its proper course in 1992 when he paced Oakland pitchers in strikeouts and had a fine 3.66 ERA but the A’s decided to cut him loose after the season.
Dave signed a free agent deal with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, determined to prove A’s brass that they parted with him too soon. All he did his first year in Canada was guide the Jays to the World Series. In the ALCS, Dave won Games II and VI. He made two starts in the World Series and was able to slide on his third World Series ring with his third Major League team. After two poor years with the Blue Jays and back in Oakland, Stewart hung up his spikes after the 1995 season.
W 168/L 129/PCT .566/G 523/CG 55/IP 2,630/H 2,499/BB 1,034/SO 1,741/SHO 9/ERA 3.95