WILLIE STARGELL: An Autobiography by Willie & Tom Bird Stargell

WILLIE STARGELL: An Autobiography

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The unaffected story of a celebrated Team Player--determined, from earliest childhood, to play baseball. For the Pittsburgh Pirates' Willie Stargell, cheerfulness and trust were the answer to adversity and hurt. Baseball, moreover, ""taught me to be modest but durable."" (""If a player fails only two-thirds of the time""--bats .333--""he's a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame."") Stargell (b. 1941) started swinging sticks and throwing rocks as a Seminole-and-black two-year-old in Oklahoma--deserted by his father, adored by his paternal grandfather. His mother remarried and took him to California; then, in a new, third marriage with ""financial troubles,"" she let an older sister take five-year-old Wilver to Florida--beginning six ""bleak"" years that taught the chore-laden lad to hustle and, for a few stolen minutes of baseball, to take punishment. (He ""understands"" childless Aunt Lucy, regrets his mother's guilt feelings.) As a sociable, sports-loving teenager, he flourished in Alameda's multiracial, one-big-family projects. He began making his name as a long-ball hitter (""I'm especially proud. . . that I'm the one player to hit a ball completely out of Dodger stadium""--twice) and a believing high school coach alerted the Pirates' scout. He hadn't known racism, he writes, until he got to the minors--where, in 1959, whites and blacks lived and ate separately in training camp, and not more than four ""Negroes"" (Latins and blacks) were allowed on a single southwestern, Sophomore League team. ""I never complained. I didn't want to be taken from the lineup."" He didn't protest--or buckle--at a death threat. ""I was willing to risk my life to live my dream."" In 1962, he made it to Pittsburgh--at the end of the Forbes Field era, before the '60 World Champion Bucks recaptured the spark at Three Rivers in 1970. Between them, loyalist Stargell and ex-Pirates'-publicist Bird manage an upbeat but not wishy-washy account of his 21 Pittsburgh seasons. He's candid about his weight problems and his dislike of '64-'67 manager Dixie Walker (who platooned him against left-handed pitching). He says that he preferred playing left field to first base: ""It gave me time to think about my hitting."" He vehemently backs up teammate Roberto Clemente (""Latin players. . . become hurt when they are constantly made fun of""), and objects on his own to sportswriters' ""hounding."" Not being named Most Valuable Player, season after season, made him wonder if the reason might be ""racial."" But he gives more than equal time to his love for Pittsburgh--the city's dazzle, the supportive front office, his ""crazy"" teammates, the ardent fans. To be a home-run hitter, he puts across, you can't be afraid to strike out. A pleasing combination of thoughtfulness and game-time excitement.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row