Late in his career he was called “Pops,” but during most of his major-league career, Willie Stargell was better known as one of baseball’s big power hitters. He hit 296 of his career 475 home runs during the 1970s and led the National League in homers twice (1971 and 1973). In 1979, the last time the Pirates won the World Series, Stargell was the league’s co-MVP, sharing top honors with Keith Hernandez of the St. Louis Cardinals. Willie Stargell baseball cards span parts of three different decades.
Stargell stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 188 pounds, but he always looked bigger. He was an imposing sight at the plate, twirling his bat like a windmill and then standing rock-still as he awaited the pitch.
“Willie walked up from the on-deck circle like he knew the pitcher was in trouble,” former Reds star Eric Davis said.
Stargell, a beloved figure in Pittsburgh and elsewhere in baseball, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988. He died April 9, 2001, way too young at age 61.
To remember No. 8, here are eight cards that spanned the slugger’s career. To see them for sale and auction on eBay, click the title of each.
Stargell’s rookie card was part of Topps’ high number series, and he is easily the most productive player on this card. Stargell shares the card with Jim Gosger, Brock Davis and John Herrnstein. Typical of the 1963 Topps rookie cards, there were four mug shots of players contained inside an oval.
Gosger played in the majors for 10 seasons, with the Red Sox, Athletics, Mets, Expos and Seattle Pilots. Fun fact about Gosger: in “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton wrote that Gosger did a “splendid” imitation of Porky Pig, and had this great quote from the outfielder after he was sent to the minors: “I didn’t think I was that bad a ballplayer, but they’re making a believer out of me.”
Davis was a 19-year-old rookie for the Houston Colt .45s in 1963, and spent six years in the majors with Houston, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. Herrnstein broke in with the Phillies and spent most of his five-career in Philadelphia. In 1966, he played for the Phillies, Cubs and Braves.
As for Stargell, he connected for 475 home runs and drove in 1,540 runs. He led the National League in home runs twice and topped the N.L. in RBIs once. He also was the 1979 World Series MVP.
Stargell appeared on more than one Jay Publishing set but his first appearance was one of 12 players featured in the Pirates picture pack set for 1964. The 5-inch by 7-inch black-and-white photos were issued by Jay Publishing’s Big League Books division, part of an annual series from 1958 to 1964. A youthful-looking Stargell poses, hands on knees, in what looks like Terry Park in Fort Myers, Florida — the spring training home of the Pirates during from 1955 to 1968.
These cards were sold at the ballpark and stores, and also were available by mail.
This is one of those quirky duo cards that Topps enjoyed putting out during the 1960s.
Stargell, who by 1966 had established himself as a good power hitter, was paired with Donn Clendenon, another big hitter for the Pirates. Stargell was coming off a 27-homer, 107-RBI season, and in 1966 he would connect for 33 homers and drive in 102 runs. Clendenon would hit 28 homers and drive in 96 runs in 1966.
1970 was a huge year for Pittsburgh baseball. The Pirates began the season at their decades-old home, Forbes Field before moving into Three Rivers Stadium and its artificial turf. After years of struggling, they won their first NL East title.
Stargell is one of 24 players featured on this insert set distributed in wax packs of Topps’ 1970 baseball cards. The scratch-off booklets, when opened, measured 3 3/8 inches by 5 inches. Players would open the card, take a coin and rub the black ink off playing squares to reveal game action. When three outs were recorded, the next player would scratch off squares. This would continue until a nine-inning game was completed. Players could record the game score on a scoreboard featured on the back of the card.
Unscratched cards command a higher premium; Topps reprised this issue in 1971, with the main difference being the inside part of the card. The 1970 card showcased a white inside, while the ’71 card was red inside.
Stargell began to appear more frequently and on more cards as his career blossomed and the 1970 ‘Super’ set was a bold, new look for the company’s baseball products and their first oversized set of cards since the 1964 Giants set.
These cards had a thick stock, rounded corners and full-bleed photography. They measured 3 1/8 inches by 5 ¼ inches and also contained a facsimile autograph. Stargell was part of a 42-card set (Roberto Clemente was the other Pirates player in the product) that featured card backs that mirrored the regular 1970 Topps set.
Stargell has a bemused, almost wide-eyed expression on his card front. Something definitely had his attention.
It all came together for the Pirates in 1971. Building off their playoff run in ’70, the Bucs won their first World Series since 1960 and Stargell led the league in homers with 48.
This is a relatively affordable card, even in higher grades, although a collector is always challenged to find a 1971 Topps card that does not have chipping issues or soft corners. Blame that black border that surrounds the photo on the card front.
After spending the first 12 years of his career as an outfielder, Stargell made the permanent move to first base in ’75.
The 1975 Hostess issue was the first of five consecutive sets issued by the snack cake manufacturer. It was a 50-panel set, with three cards to a panel. The cards formed the bottom of the Hostess box, and some careful scissor work could produce some nice-looking cards.
Stargell was part of Panel No. 45, which he shared with Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt and Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle. A complete panel measured 7 ¼ inches by 3 ¼ inches; a single card, if cut properly, measured 2 ¼ inches by 3 ¼ inches.
Stargell and the Pirates had a magical season, culminating with a World Series victory against the Baltimore Orioles. At age 39, he won his first NL MVP award in ’79 with 32 homers, 82 RBIs, and a calming presence in the clubhouse.
On his 1979 Topps card, Stargell is shown following through on a hit, wearing the “memorable” all-gold Pirates uniform.
It’s not the greatest photo, but one that shows Stargell’s smooth grace and power. And that’s how most baseball fans will remember Pops.