Friday, February 18, 2011

#100 - Willie Stargell

I am on vacation this week so my postings have been and will continue to be sporadic. We are on St. Martin and yesterday took a stroll on a clothing-optional beach (we were fully attired). Long story short, it wasn't pretty. Sorry about that lead-in Willie.

So Willie Stargell, fresh off an MVP-calibur season, gets the first century card of the set. '73 was a bang-up season for him and if Steve Blass' pitching hadn't completely self-destructed Willie may have led the Pirates to yet another division title. Here he looks benignly menacing at Candlestick.

Wilver Stargell - I love that first name - was drafted by the Pirates in '58. In the low minors he displayed some decent RBI power while playing both first and the outfield. He bumped up his homer totals in '61 in A ball and then in Triple A in '62 to 27. By then he was pretty much strictly an outfielder and when he came up late in '62 it was the position at which he would stay for a while. Although he would be much better defensively as a first baseman, Donn Clendenon was already established at that position so Willie would be an outfielder for the first half of his career. In '63 he was the fourth outfielder and in '64 he began to segue into a starting spot, mostly left field. That year he would be rewarded with his first All-Star appearance. '65 was his first 100-RBI season (he would have five of those). In '66 - the season he started swinging a sledgehammer in the on-deck circle - he would hit over 30 homers and over .300 for his first time; the former was a bigger deal because it was pretty tough to launch them out of Forbes Field. In '67 and '68 injuries pulled his numbers down, but his power bounced back the next two seasons. In '70 the Pirates would claim their first title in ten years and Willie would hit .500 that post-season.

1971 was Willie's magic season. A .295 average, 48 homers, and 125 RBIs were his way of welcoming the more cooperative dimensions of the Pirates' new home, Three Rivers Stadium. They were also the numbers that would lead them all the way to the Series title, even though he slumped in the post-season. A fine '72 followed, the first year he would play primarily at first base. In '73 he would return to the outfield. That year the Pirates were struck by the off-season death of Roberto Clemente and Steve Blass' self-destruction on the mound. Willie would lead the league in doubles, homers, and RBI's, almost taking them back to a division title. In '74 and '75 he would continue slugging while returning to first base, but the next two seasons injuries limited his playing time. In '77 he only got 186 at bats and his RBI numbers were his lowest in the majors. At 37 he was thought done. The following year, though, he rallied big, his 28 homers and 97 ribbies getting him that year's Comeback Player award. '79 was magic year number two as Willie - now Pops - cohered a clubhouse around "We are Family", shared the MVP with Keith Hernandez, and danced all the way to his second Series title. In the post-season that year he hit .415 with six doubles, five homers, and 13 RBIs in ten games. Willie would stay with the Pirates through '82 for a total of 21 seasons with the club. When he was done his .282 average, .360 OBA, 475 homers, and 1,540 RBIs would grab him a spot in the Hall on his first try, in 1988. His post-season numbers would include a .278 average with nine homers and 20 RBI's in 36 games.

Following his playing career, Willie would coach for the Braves. He would develop liver problems and very sadly passed away of a stroke in 2001. He was 61.

Wilver Dornel sure has some nice numbers on this card. I find it interesting he signs with his given first name. I am glad he liked to dance, but by '73 couldn't the Topps' artists acknowledge that dancing had moved past the Mr. Bojangles phase? Pops was supposed to be a great guy, very polite and cordial to pretty much everyone. It was a shame to see him go so soon. He has a SABR page but you gotta buy a book to read it.

Here is the double link. Fist to Crandall as manager:

1. Stargell and Richie Zisk '71 to '76 Pirates;
2. Zisk and Del Crandall '83 Mariners.

Now for Crandall as player:

1. Stargell and Del Crandall '65 Pirates.

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