Two new biographies run different basepaths to Willie Stargell | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Two new biographies run different basepaths to Willie Stargell

Richard Peterson and Frank Garland explore the life and legacy of the Pirates' beloved "Pops."


Ask a baseball fan to name the greatest player ever to wear a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, and you'll likely get one of two names — Clemente or Stargell.

Much has been written about Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972. Now, the man known affectionately as "Pops" gets his due in two new biographies.

Pops: The Willie Stargell Story (Triumph), by baseball writer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contributor Richard "Pete" Peterson, and Willie Stargell: A Life in Baseball (McFarland), by Gannon University professor Frank Garland, tell the story of the larger-than-life Pirates captain whose legacy is honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame and with a giant bronze statue outside PNC Park.

While the books contain a lot of the same information — both amply cover the 1979 World Series, when Stargell put the Buccos on his back and brought them back from a three-games-to-one deficit to win it — they are completely different reads.

Peterson weaves a compelling story of Stargell's 20-year career. Using interviews and contemporaneous news accounts, he builds drama and makes you turn the page even if you already know Stargell's accomplishments well.

In the book's penultimate chapter, Peterson writes: "For the Pirates and their fans, 1979 became the season of Stargell Stars and ‘We are Family.' It also, however, became the season when the player they called ‘Wil' in the 1960s and ‘Starg' in the 1970s had become the head of the Pirates family."

Garland's book reads more like a textbook for a college course on Stargell. That's not a bad thing — far from it. Garland's book has as much baseball content as Peterson's, but also explores his personal life — the good and the bad.

Garland, for example, discusses Stargell's stint following retirement as the narrator for a touring symphony show based on the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But he also talks about the controversy.

In 1985, Stargell's former teammates Dale Berra and Dave Parker testified at the trial of soon-to-be-convicted drug-dealer Curtis Strong that Stargell gave players amphetamines in the locker room. Stargell denied the claim, and Major League Baseball ruled a year later that Pops was "wrongly accused."

The beauty of these two books is that they comprise a great mini-anthology of the life and times of Willie Stargell. Separately they are enjoyable, informative reads. But read together, they give you the complete picture of Stargell the player and the man.

Comments (1)
Comments are closed.