Throughout his 21 years as a Pirate Willie Stargell was a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. His on field accomplishments are well known so let's look at "Pops" off the field.
Willie really stepped to the forefront as the Pirates leader after the tragic and sudden death of Roberto Clemente. Stargell admired Clemente and was deeply saddened by his passing. The 1973 season was a difficult one for the club as it was impossible to replace Clemente's spirit and passion. Willie tried to lead by example and came through on the field with one of the best year's of his career. He also spent the season quietly but effectively taking over the leadership of the club and was officially named team captain that year.
The 1978 Pirates made an unlikely last season run for the eastern division crown, battling the Phillies right up until the final days fo the season. While the Pirates came up short at the end, Willie saw something special in his teammates. At the conclusion of the '78 season he predicted that the '79 club would win the World Series. He knew exactly what he was doing - applying pressure while also instilling confidence.
As you know, the 1979 Pirates did win the World Series. Their on field play was stellar. But there were a couple of things happening off the field that undoubtedly contributed to the Pirates on field success.
Stargell instituted a program where he rewarded players for effort, exceptional play, or anything else he deemed "star worthy" with a Stargell Star. Initially Willie purchased store bought star patches and the players had them sewn into their pill box style caps. Eventually the stars became customized and included an "S" in the middle. This motivation tool was as ingenious as it was genuine. Players were honored to be recognized by Pops and he loved to honor them with one of his stars. Even after his retirement Willie continued to distribute stars to people he encountered who he felt had done something of merit. In fact, at his 1988 All Star induction, he gave stars to Hall of Fame employees.
Willie was also the one behind the 1979 Pirates rallying anthem, "We Are Family." Willie was always talking about how important it was for teammates to be like family. "We Are Family" was a popular song at the time and Willie began playing it in the clubhouse. It caught on and began being played throughout the stadium and the entire city of Pittsburgh. It became their song and the 1979 Pirates will forever be known as "The Family."
Willie retired from the Pirates after the 1982 season. He passed away on April 9, 2001, on the same day that the Pirates unvelied a statue of him at PNC Park.
Here are a couple of quotes about Willie "Pops" Stargell that further explain why he was one of the greatest men in the game of baseball.
"Having Willie Stargell on your team is like having a diamond ring on your finger." " His attitude in the clubhouse inspires everyone. What a great honor it is for me to manage a player like Willie Stargell." Chuck Tanner
"If Willie asked us to jump off the Fort Pitt Bridge, we would ask him what kind of dive he wanted. That's how much respect we have for the man." Al Oliver
"There's only one word to describe Willie Stargell, and that's class. He's been an inspiration to millions of youngsters all over America." Tommy Lasorda
"That rare combination of athlete and gentleman. He is one of the very few to be a star both on and off the field." former teammate Ken Brett