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The Greatest Bucco
by Michael Aubrecht

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.

Career Highlights:

  • Named to The Sporting News NL All-Star team in 1965, 1966, 1971, 1972
  • Hit Homeruns in all 13 NL ballparks in 1970 (including Forbes and 3 Rivers)
  • Comeback Player of the Year in 1978
  • National League Co-MVP -- 1979 (Keith Hernandez)
  • Playoff & World Series MVP -- 1979
  • Sports Illustrated Co-Sportsman of the Year -- 1979 (Terry Bradshaw)
  • The Sporting News -- Man of the Year & Major League Player of the Year-- 1979
  • Hit 7 homeruns out of Forbes Field
  • One of two players to ever hit homeruns out of Dodger Stadium (twice)
  • Named to the All-Star Game 7 times
  • Hit more HRs than any other player in the 1970's

Holds Pirate team records in:

  • Most Years Played -- 21
  • Most Home Runs -- 475
  • Most Extra Base Hits -- 953
  • Most Grand Slams (tied with Kiner) -- 11
  • Most RBIs -- 1,540
  • Most Total Bases on Extra Hits -- 2,042
  • Most Base on Balls -- 937
  • Most Strikeouts -- 1,936

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:

  • He slammed seven (of the 18) home runs over the 90 foot high right field roof at Forbes Field, including one off Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in 1969 that Willie called, "The best one I ever hit."
  • He is the only player ever to hit a baseball out of Dodger Stadium twice. In 1969 and 1973, Stargell cleared the 50 foot high right field pavilion. Note: During the 1997 season, the Dodger's Mike Piazza hit a ball out of Dodger Stadium, and Mark McGwire of St Louis duplicated the feat in 1999.
  • He's responsible for the longest home run at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, where a gold seat in the second deck of right field still commemorates his blast.
  • At old Jarry Park in Montreal, Stargell hit a legendary shot that ended up in a swimming pool beyond the right field fence.
  • At Three Rivers Stadium, Willie hit four of the dozen-or-so upper deck home runs. As of this writing, only one other player had hit two upper deck shots.
  • In the 1965 All-Star Game, Stargell launched a home run against Mudcat Grant that landed in the right center field bullpen.

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Copyright © 2003 Pinstripe Press. All Rights Reserved.
Researched and written by Michael Aubrecht.
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