A Biography in 1,000 Players No. 102 Willie Stargell (Number 9 Left Field)

When I was just before my teens, we could order books from a catalog at school. The book was written for kids our age and were relatively cheap. I couldn’t order a book every month, but one I made sure I picked up was baseball stars of what ever the year was. It would profile 12 to 15 players who had good seasons the year before. So “The Baseball Stars of 1972” would cover the 1971 season. I think this is the book I’m thinking about. It talked about some racial incidents Willie had in the minors. It talked about incidents in his first year and his then in his second year it mentioned he played in Grand Forks, ND. I didn’t know at the time Willie Stargell played in Grand Forks. I knew they had a team but hadn’t known they belonged to the Pirates. My thrill was soon eliminated as I read on. It said Willie couldn’t get away from racial incidents in Grand Forks. It seems that a little girl saw him and said that she wanted a teddy bear the same color as that guy pointing at Willie. Now in 1960 I was only 1 years old and we lived in Ohio. But my family lived in North Dakota and I had older cousins. I always imagined one of my cousins making that statement and I felt bad for Willie that this incident took place in Grand Forks. I think he was forgiving sort.

Another incident happened about 14 years ago. My Mother had passed away and my Dad moved near us and offered to take the whole family to Mexico for a trip. We were on a bus coming back from an excursion and my daughter and my brother were playing some kind of game. My brother was making up a story about a guy and called him Willie Stargell, I was seated a row behind them and thinking my brother didn’t follow baseball much at all, and probably doesn’t remember Willie Stargell. So, I asked my brother how he came up with the name. He said he just made it up. I said Willie Stargell was a famous baseball player and was in the hall of fame. This kind of amazed my brother and my daughter.

It was a controversy when Willie Stargell named MVP in 1979. He was actually co-MVP with Keith Hernandez. Stargell was 39 that year and had a good hitting year in limited playing time. He played only 126 games that year. By this time in his career he had moved to first base and wasn’t that strong of a defensive player there. However, one thing he did was provide leadership to the Pirates. When someone did something special on the team Stargell would give them a gold star on his cap. The other players liked this, and some had caps with lots of stars. He also played “We are Family” in the clubhouse helping to unite the team. The Pirates won a tight race with the Montreal Expos which both teams played excellent ball in September. I agree he probably shouldn’t have been MVP as he didn’t do enough as a player, but he certainly would have found his way onto my ballot.

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Author: Douglas Byzewski

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