Inside Pitch

May 22, 1968: Willie Stargell of the Pirates hits three home runs, a double and a single in the Pirates' win over the Cubs


MAY 20, 2013

Willie Stargell crushed 475 career homers, leading the National League with 48 blasts in 1971 and 44 in '73.

A day at the plate like Willie Stargell had usually comes when a hitter's been hot, not in a slump. But the 5,075 in attendance would never have believed it after watching the hitting display he put on that day at Wrigley Field. 

Forty-Five years ago this week – on May 22, 1968 –Stargell had the best day at the plate in his 21-year career with the Pirates. The 28-year-old Stargell went 5-for-5 on the day with three home runs, a double, and a single in a 13-6 win versus the Cubs.

Coming off a 3-for-7 performance against the Mets the day before in a 17-inning game - including a homer off of fellow future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver – Stargell was looking to build on a solid day at the plate in New York. In his first at-bat against Cubs starter Joe Niekro, Stargell launched a solo shot into the left field bleachers giving the Bucs an early 1-0 lead. With the Cubs leading in the fourth inning his next time up, the same result, another solo home run for the power hitting left fielder. 

The next inning, Stargell knocked Niekro out of the game with a game-tying RBI single to right field. In the sixth, Stargell’s clutch two-out double off reliever Bill Stoneman brought home two, extending the Pirates lead to 9-5. The ball clipped the bleacher railing in left field, just barely staying in the park.

In his fifth and final at-bat of the game, Stargell belted his third home run of the day, a two-run blast to left-center field in the eighth off right-hander Chuck Hartenstein, making it 13-5 Pittsburgh. He was welcomed back to the dugout to a standing ovation from the Cubs fans.

“What a warm feeling it gives a player, especially a visitor, when the fans welcome you like that, the home runs make you feel good all over and the applause is welcome music.” said Stargell.  

Stargell finished the day a perfect 5-for-5 with seven RBI and four runs scored in the 13-6 victory over Chicago. This gave him eight hits in the last two games, increasing his average to a .281 clip for the season. 

“I never had a better day, I just can’t believe it, but I knew in our last game in New York that things were going to get better for me, I just had that feeling,” said Stargell. 

The 1979 National League MVP, NLCS MVP, and World Series MVP – the first player to receive all three in the same season – finished his career with 475 home runs, leading the league in that department twice. One of the best power hitters the game has seen, Stargell was the first to hit a ball out of Dodgers Stadium, doing it twice. At the spacious Forbes Field where he played almost half his career in Pittsburgh, Stargell was one of nine players to ever hit a home run over the roof – accomplishing that feat seven times. 

A first ballot Hall of Famer, Stargell was inducted into Cooperstown in 1988. 

Nick Anapolis was the spring 2013 public relations intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame


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