COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – His power was so titanic that the number 475 – his career home run total – doesn’t even do justice to Willie Stargell’s ability to hit a baseball.
“He doesn’t just hit pitchers,” said former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner. “He takes away their dignity.”
Forty-two years ago this week – on April 25, 1970 – Stargell demonstrated his massive strength yet again when he hit a ball over the right field roof at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.
For Stargell, it marked second time in five days that the Pirates star had cleared the right field roof at Forbes Field. The park opened in 1909, and by the time it closed in June of 1970 only 18 balls had cleared the right field roof. Stargell had hit seven of those.
Stargell’s blast on April 25 came off future Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm in the seventh inning, cutting the Braves’ lead to 7-6 in a game the Pirates eventually won 8-7. On April 20, Stargell’s mammoth shot came off Houston’s Jim Bouton in a 3-1 Pittsburgh win.
Stargell’s power came at a price. His massive left-handed swings produced 1,936 strikeouts during his 21-year big league career. But Stargell used each strikeout as a lesson.
“I’m proud of my strikeouts too,” Stargell said. “For I feel that to succeed, one must first fail; and the more you fail, the more you learn about succeeding.”
Stargell led the Pirates to World Series championships in 1971 and 1979, sharing the National League Most Valuable Player Award with Keith Hernandez of the Cardinals in 1979 at the age of 39. He retired following the 1982 season with a .282 career batting average, 1,540 RBI and seven All-Star Game selections.
Stargell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988. He passed away on April 9, 2001.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum