Stewart W. Strader was the son of a prominent business leader in two of Kentucky’s signature businesses. His father, Colonel Robert Stuart Strader operated a distillery and was a prominent breeder of Standardbred Trotters. In 1875, the elder Strader moved the family from Boone County, Kentucky to Lexington where he was involved in the founding and management of The Red Mile—the world’s second oldest harness racing track.
Stewart Strader was born in Lexington in 1882, one of seven sons. By the age of 20 he had become an important figure in baseball circles in and around Lexington, as owner, manager and one of the best players on Lexington’s local semi-pro team.
Before the 1903 season The Lexington Leader said Strader was attempting to get his team accepted into the Central League and “Lexington’s application for a franchise is looked upon quite favorably,” but days later The Lexington Herald said Strader “decided most of the cities composing the Central League were too far to enable his club to play them with profit.” He instead entered his team in Cincinnati’s Sunday League and played against other independent teams during the week.
His reputation quickly spread, and while there were rumors in the press that he would be signed by the Cincinnati Reds, they did not materialize, but he did receive a letter from William Henry “Bill” Watkins, president and manager of the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. Watkins wrote:
“I thought I would write you and see if you had any idea of going into the professional end of the game next season. If you will consider a trial with us, I would like to hear from you.”
Strader accepted the offer, but by the time he reported to Indianapolis in late March, Watkins had left Indianapolis to manage the Minneapolis Millers. In his first game with the Hoosiers, an exhibition against Purdue University, Strader played right field and was 3 for 3 with a triple. The Indianapolis News said, “Strader is a hitter of merit and with a little more work should develop into a strong fielder.”
Two days before the beginning of the regular season Indianapolis purchased left fielder Ed “Pinky” Swander from the St. Louis Browns, and right fielder George Hogriever, who had refused to sign after hitting .330 the previous season, agreed to terms with the Hoosiers. Strader was released to the Greenville Cotton Pickers in the Cotton States League. His hometown paper, The Herald, said he “had been holding down right field with due credit,” but Indianapolis Manager Bill Phillips felt “he was too young for the fast company.”
After hitting .309 for Greenville in 81 at bats, he was sold to the Macon Highlanders in the South Atlantic League where he hit just .200 in 130 at bats.
Strader spent the next five years making brief stops with seven different minor league teams, buying and selling the independent Lexington club at least twice, and tending a saloon he opened in 1905.
In 1908, Lexington became part of the newly formed Blue Grass League. It was the city’s first team in organized ball in more than a decade, and Strader may, or may not, have been involved in an attempt to wrest control of the team from owner and manager Thomas Sheets.
Strader opened the season in the Virginia State League, where he appeared in 10 games for the Richmond Colts and Danville Red Sox. In late May, he returned to Kentucky and signed a contract with Sheets’ Lexington Colts. On May 31 he played center field for the Colts and was 0 for 3. The following day he was released.
The Herald speculated that another player, Warren Fieber (who had purchased the independent Lexington team from Strader two years earlier and later sold it back to him) would also be released:
“Sheets admitted that an effort had been made to undermine him in the last two days, but would make no further statement.”
Fieber, who was hitting .320 on June 1, remained with the team, but his batting average plummeted to .222 by the season’s end. Strader stayed in the Bluegrass League and signed with the Shelbyville Grays; he had the best season of his pro career, hitting .324.
Strader played his final season of pro ball the next year with the Frankfort Statesmen. In June The Herald said:
“Lexington fans have noted with considerable satisfaction that Stewart Strader a Lexington boy now with Frankfort is leading the Blue Grass League in batting.”
Strader was hitting .410 as late as June 23, but slumped badly in the second half of the season and finished with a .264 average. At the end of the 1909 season Strader and Patrick Downing, a former minor league player, were appointed deputies by the Fayette County Sheriff. The Leader said the two deputies they replaced “apparently would not play ball.”
Strader signed with the Davenport Prodigals in the Three-I League in the spring of 1910 but was released before the season began.
During the last several years of career, and the first decade after he left the diamond, the Strader family was regularly mentioned in the local press for things other than baseball.
Two brothers died tragically, one, according to The Leader, by his own hand after shooting a woman in Lexington’s “Tenderloin District.” The other was murdered during a dispute while hunting.
Strader began operating taverns and restaurants in Lexington in 1905, and the family spent the better part of a decade bringing various lawsuits against each other involving the failure of the distillery after their father’s death and other business disputes. During one dispute Strader’s older brother W.P. had him arrested claiming Stewart Strader “would do bodily harm or injury to him.”
Despite the family drama, Strader remained a successful businessman and prominent member of Lexington society. He owned the Berlin Café—which he originally purchased with one of his brothers in 1905–until 1940 and for seven years in the 1920s operated Third Avenue Motor Company in Louisville, which sold the Anderson Six—produced by the Anderson Motor Car Company in South Carolina.
Strader died in Lexington on August 9, 1948.