Stargell powers his way to Cooperstown
Willie Stargell wasn’t even considered the top prospect on his high school baseball team in Alameda, Calif.
But Pirates scout Bob Zuk saw something in him, and Stargell signed with Pittsburgh in 1958.
Three decades later, on Jan. 12, 1988, Stargell earned a spot in Cooperstown.
“Wilver had charisma,” Zuk told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after Stargell was elected. “All the kids liked him. Everybody would help him. He had this tremendous charisma.”
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In his first year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, Stargell garnered 82 percent of the vote to become the 200th member of the Hall of Fame and the 17th player elected in their first year of eligibility. With his 382 of 427 votes, Stargell was the sole candidate to reach the 75 percent threshold required for election in 1988.
“Awesome,” Stargell said of the honor. “More awesome than I thought it would be.”
Stargell debuted for the Pirates in 1962. By 1963, he was a consistent force in the Pirates’ lineup. From that point on, for the next 20 years, he would be a mainstay in left field and at first base for Pittsburgh.
In 1964, he slugged 21 homers, marking the first of 13 consecutive seasons in which he would hit 20 or more.
From 1971-73, Stargell finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting three years in a row and led the major leagues with 48 homers in 1971 and 44 in 1973. Stargell and Roberto Clemente teamed up to lead the Pirates to a championship in 1971, as they defeated the Orioles in seven games in the Fall Classic.
Stargell was known as “Pops” on the “We Are Family” Pirates in 1979, when Pittsburgh once again earned a seven-game victory over Baltimore and captured another World Series title. Stargell was named NLCS MVP and World Series MVP and shared the regular season NL MVP Award with Keith Hernandez. He became the first player ever to win all three awards in one season.
“When he was in the lineup, he made every hitter in the lineup a better hitter,” former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner said of Stargell. “Pitchers would try so hard to get him out that when they did they thought they had it made. And that would make it easier for the next guy to get a hit.”
Stargell was as durable as anyone in his 21 years in the big leagues, going on the injured list only three times throughout his career.
“If you’re going to be hurt, you might as well be out there [on the field],” Stargell said.
The eight-time All-Star retired in 1982, having posted a .282 batting average with 475 homers, 2,232 hits and 1,540 RBI over his career, spent entirely with the Pirates.
Stargell, then a coach for the Braves, got the news of his election to the Hall of Fame while at his home in Stone Mountain, Ga.
“I tried to hold back, but I couldn’t,” Stargell said through tears. “I don’t know where I’m at. I’ve lost that big old composure. To be in the same room with the Babe [Ruth], Hank [Aaron] and Ernie [Banks]. What a feeling. What an honor.”
Stargell would be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 31, 1988, in Cooperstown, as the sole inductee in the Class of 1988.
“The Hall of Fame was made for players like Willie Stargell,” Tanner told the Associated Press. “It couldn’t be a Hall of Fame without Willie Stargell.”
Janey Murray is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum