Stargell book a must read

PITTSBURGH – Exactly 25 years have passed since Willie Stargell was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

It’s been 13 years since Stargell died on the eve of PNC Park’s opening.

With the Pirates relevant again, it’s the perfect time for “Pops, The Willie Stargell Story” by Richard “Pete” Peterson (Triumph Books, 24.95). The book is a solid summation of Stargell’s career with the organization, which started in 1958, when he was signed off the Oakland, Cal. sandlots.

Stargell first came to the Pirates as a September recall in 1962, then made the team out of spring training in 1963. He stayed through 1982, winning World Series in 1971 and 1979.

Along the way, he collected 475 home runs and an impressive number of friends. He was beloved by teammates and opposing players alike.

When he started handing out gold stars for superior accomplishments, players on other teams asked for them.

He was easily the most popular player on the team. Stargell had time and a good word for just about everyone, even as he was putting bruises on ballparks all over the National League.

So many of the landmarks are gone now. The upper deck he reached at Three Rivers Stadium was wired with dynamite and crumbled. Baseball is a memory in Montreal, and so is the swimming pool beyond the right field fence at Parc Jarry where Stargell deposited a baseball.

For as long as Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium stood, there was a marker in the upper deck which commemorated a Stargell blast. Thankfully, Dodger Stadium is still around so people can point to remote spot which Stargell reached with that familiar swing.

Peterson’s book pretty much keeps things on the field. Things weren’t always so sunny away from the ballpark. Stargell was married three times, and probably wasn’t as good a father as he could have been to his kids.

There was a messy split from the Pirates when Stargell followed Chuck Tanner to Atlanta in 1985. It took time, but the rift was repaired and Stargell made his way back to Pittsburgh in a front office role.

Sadly, poor health prevented him from ever contributing much. Just getting around was an ordeal. Stargell turned a deaf ear to spring training autograph seekers because he couldn’t stand and sign.

Fatigued from the 20-yard walk from the Pirates’ offices at Three Rivers Stadium, he sat down in the clubhouse and immediately fell asleep in the noisy environment. It was a slow and sad decline.

He was a bigger than life presence in Pirates history. Those who remember him, and those just getting acquainted, will benefit from reading this book.

Mehno can be reached at