Close your eyes and envision Willie Stargell. Do you hear something in the background? A song, perhaps? Something with a disco beat and a slap bass?
That’s how we remember “Pops,” through the Sister Sledge song “We Are Family.” It’s perfect, because family was central to Stargell’s being.
That’s why his teammates called him “Pops,” right? He was a father figure. The fun father. A quick search of the PG photo files reveals several pictures of Stargell clowning with teammates, hugging his buddies. It’s a delightful file to look through. We have at least two images of Stargell getting pies or cakes in the face (Pops started it, by the way, and took his comeuppance with a laugh). One picture shows Stargell tugging teammate Tony Pena’s jersey, Pop’s face revealing his mischievous nature. Stargell was close to Chuck Tanner and Bob Prince — you can see it in the pictures.
Then there are the pictures with his immediate family — hoisting young son Willie Jr., with wife Delores looking on in 1968, standing with his arm around daughter Precious in 1981, hugging his mother in 1982.
Pittsburgh got news of Stargell’s death on April 9, 2001 — the day the city celebrated the opening of a new baseball park. Fans gathered at a freshly unveiled Stargell statue, laid flowers at its feet and remembered the man’s two-decade-long career as a Pirate. Yea, they remembered, We Are Family.
Stargell’s name and the word “family” appeared in the same headline once again this week, but this time the story was one of division, not typical Pops unity. His widow — Stargell’s second wife — has decided to auction some of his possessions, a move that has angered other members of his family, including his children and grandchildren. And so the treasures of a career so closely aligned with togetherness now sow division.
That’s not how we’ll remember Stargell, however. A search for the terms “Willie Stargell” and “family” through the website newspapers.com revealed 3,618 results, more than we could possibly read. Then there is the song, and the pictures. More reminders.
Upon Stargell’s death, teammate Al Oliver said of Pops, “Our society is full of hatred, but he taught us about love. He proved that people of different races and backgrounds can come together for one common purpose.”
— Steve Mellon