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Ramblings: Remembering When Pops Was Tops

Wednesday marked the anniversary of the longest home run ever hit at the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, a monster blast hit by Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell.  It came off Jim Bunning in a 14-4 Pirates’ win.  The ball landed in section 601 and the spot where the ball landed was commemorated with a black “S” inscribed within a yellow star inside a white circle, which was later painted black after Stargell’s death in 2001.

Willie Stargell 1971 Topps’71 was a special year for the Pirates who beat the Baltimore Orioles and won the World Series. Stargell belted 48 homers and Roberto Clemente hit .341.  Clemente’s life ended just over a year later but Stargell continued to produce for the Buccos throughout the remainder of the decade, one that culminated when a song and a team became synonymous.

There is little doubt that disco music hit its absolute peak and very quickly its nadir during 1979. After the sensational success of Saturday Night Fever and the accompanying album the constant disco thump beat dominated the radio airwaves. Even in New York City, the long-time dominant top 40 AM station, WABC was overtaken by Disco 92 (WKTU) for ratings supremacy after 15 years on top of the ratings. And yes, sports were working with the burgeoning music scene but the backlash was beginning as well during the 1979 season.

In Chicago, we had the great between double-header games promotion known as “Disco Demolition Night” in which led by Chicago DJ Steve Dahl, an overflow crowd at old Comiskey Park helped to cause the third American League forfeited game of the 1970′s. In an astonishing bit of trivia, back-up outfielder Rusty Torres was in uniform for all three of those forfeited games. (1971 final game in Washington, 1974 10-cent beer night in Cleveland).

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles to the east, in a city which was perhaps even more conservative than Chicago, Stargell, by a now a beloved older slugger, was leading the Pirates clubhouse and the theme for the team was “We Are Family” which was then a big hit for Sister Sledge.

Willie Stargell 1979 ToppsStargell, who was approaching the end of his career was turning back the clock in 1979 on his way to final great season before his eventual selection into Cooperstown.

At the age of 38, Stargell would end up as the co-winner of the 1979 NL MVP award in the only time two players have ever tied for the award. Stargell was known as “Pops” and was definitely the dominant clubhouse figure as well. During the season, he would award “stars” for great on-field performances and when you look at the caps of the 1979 Pirates, you will see everyone has a different amount of stars on their caps.

‘The 1979 Pirates would fight back and win the World Series that year and Pops Stargell got one last great moment before his career ended a few years later. His team, the 1979 Pirates “family” are still known as such and although their World Series win was not as dramatic as the 1960 Bill Mazeroski homer-ending series, there were plenty of fireworks in 1979 as well.



About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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