The Greatest Bucco
Willie Stargell, whose great menacing bat and gentle giant's compassion were the trademarks of his singular 21-year-career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, died of a stroke on April 9th, 2001. Stargell's impact on the Pirates was far greater than the production that made him only the 17th player in baseball history to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. His numbers were dwarfed by his humanity. He was a childhood hero of mine and represented everything that is good about sports. Two of my favorite memorabilia items are an autographed 1979 Sports Illustrated "Man of the Year" cover signed by both Bradshaw and Stargell and another autograph/photo combo from when my mom took me to meet Willie downtown at Kaufmanns in 1980. This page is dedicated in his memory. We'll miss you Pops.
When a teammate distinguished himself with a clutch hit, heads-up move on the base-paths, or fielding gem, "Pops" Stargell marked the occasion with a gold star ceremony. Soon ballplayers earning $300,000 a year were putting out a little bit extra to get a gold "Stargell Star" and by the end of the season, the Pirates had the whole country singing "We Are Family," earning enough gold stars to become World Champions.
At thirty-nine, two years after his career had apparently ended, Stargell set a record for most MVP awards in a season. He was named MVP of both the playoffs and the World Series, divided regular season MVP honors with Keith Hernandez, and shared Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award with Steeler Terry Bradshaw.
Many of his 475 career home runs were titanic. Only eighteen balls were hit out of Forbes Field in sixty-one years (beginning with Babe Ruth's epic blast on May 25, 1935); Stargell hit seven of them. Only one player hit a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium? Stargell, who did it twice.
Stargell's 1977 season was plagued with injuries, but Pops hit 28 homers and drove in 97 runs in 1978 to earn Comeback Player of the Year. After the gold stars came out during spring training in 1979, Stargell hit 32 homers and the Pirates won the division, finishing two games ahead of Montreal.
In the playoffs against Cincinnati, he broke an 11-inning 2-2 tie with a three-run homer and homered again in Game Three as Pittsburgh swept the Big Red Machine. In the World Series against Baltimore, Stargell homered as the Orioles won the opener and went 3-for-5 with a homer in Game Four; however, Baltimore came up with six runs in the eighth inning to win, 9-6, and open up a 3-1 lead in games.
With the Pirates trailing, 1-0, in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 5, Stargell hit a sacrifice fly to even the score and later singled to start a three-run inning. The Pirates won 7-1. After John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve shut Baltimore out in Game Six to bring the Buccos even, Stargell put on a batting show in the finale, going 4-for-5 with a two-run homer. Overall, he set a Series record with seven extra-base hits.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988 (first year of eligibility) with 352 votes of 427 ballots cast: 82.44% and was immortalized in 2001 with a statue outside left field of the team's new PNC Park. His likeness stands there with those of two other Pirates heroes, Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente.
Holds Pirate team records in:
Willie Stargell has hit more home runs than anyone else in the team's 109-year history. Stargell hit 30 or more home runs six times and had 3 home runs in a game four times. Several of those were tape measure shots:
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