Willie Stargell was one of my heroes when I was growing up. I was and still am a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. I remember as a kid playing baseball in the field next to our house. I always pretended to hit like Clemente, then would turn around left handed and swing with that big, windmill practice swing and hit like Stargell.
Willie Stargell played his entire career with the Bucs. Batting fourth in the lineup behind Roberto Clemente, they were one of the most feared three and four hitter combinations for a decade.
Willie's full name is Wilver Dornell Stargell. He was born in Earlsboro, Oklahoma on March 6, 1940. He signed with the Pirates at the age of 18 and played his first Major League game on September 16, 1962.
During the 62 years that the Pirates played at Forbes Field, only 16 balls were ever hit completely out of the stadium. Willie Stargell hit seven of them.
He hit the longest home run ever at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium into the upper deck in right field. A "star" was placed were the ball landed.
While waiting on deck, Stargell didn't use the weighted "donut" on his bat to loosen up. He would swing a sledge hammer! I'll bet the pitchers loved to see that.
On April 17, 1964, the New York Mets opened brand new Shea Stadium against the Pirates. Willie Stargell hit the very first home run in that ball park.
Only four home runs have ever been hit completely out of Dodger Stadium. Willie hit two. One was 506 feet. The other was hit 493 feet. Dodger pitcher and Hall of Famer Don Sutton said,"Stargell doesn't just hit pitchers, he takes away their dignity".
In 1973, Stargell led the National League in both home runs and doubles. Hank Greenberg was the last to do that back in 1940.
Willie hit the only home run to ever reach the upper deck at Montreal's Olympic stadium in 1978 off of Expos pitcher Steve Rogers.
For some time, Willie owned a chicken franchise in Pittsburgh called "Chicken On The Hill". He would give away free chicken when he hit a home run. Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince would call a Stargell home run by saying,"Let's have some chicken on the hill with Will!".
During the bi-centenial year of 1976, most Major League clubs wore the old fashioned, "pill box" caps with the stripes around them. After the season, the Pirates continued to wear them and they became a regular part of their uniforms. In 1978, "Pops" as Willie was known to his team mates, started to give "Stargell Stars" whenever one of the Pirates made a great play or hit. The players began to accumulate them on their hats.
That season, the Pirates came from 11.5 games back to almost catch the Phillies for the division title. In the deciding game at the end of the season, Stargell hit a first inning grand slam to give the Bucs the lead they would eventually give up. But Willie called the 1978 club his favorite ever and predicted that they would win the World Series in 1978.
Stargell must have been psychic. After a start that had the Pirates in last place at the end of April, they fought back and won the Eastern Division Title against the Expos on the last day of the season. Stargell adopted the song, "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge" as the teams theme song. Fans would sing it and dance on the dugout during and after games.
After being down three games to one in the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Stargell led the Bucs to victory with a game seven home run as the Pirates won the World Championship. Willie Stargell was named the NLCS and World Series Most Valuable Player Award. He finished in a tie with the Cardinals Keith Hernandez for the National League MVP.
Pops finished with 475 home runs and 1,540 runs batted in.
He as the winner of the Lou Gehrig Award in 1974, the Roberto Clemente Award, also in 1974 and the Babe Ruth Award in 1979.
He also received the 1978 Hutch Award and the 1979 Major League Player Of The Year.
Willie Stargell was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1988.
Pops died from complications from a stroke on April 10, 2001. That same day, the Pirates opened their brand new stadium, PNC Park, and unveiled a larger than life statue of him.
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