Year Inducted: 1988 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 352/427)
Team MVPs tend to get a lot of Hall of Fame credit, especially if they win a championship or two. Would Duke Snider be as beloved had he not been integral to several pennants and the 1955 World Series championship? Derek Jeter may as well mark the spot where his plaque will hang in 4 years now, thanks in no small part to his World Series exploits. The Pirates from the 1970s were one of the best teams in the NL, but constantly overshadowed by the Big Red Machine of Bench/Rose/Morgan/Concepcion, etc. After winning the World Series in both 1971 and 1979, it probably changed how a lot of voters viewed Willie Stargell, the face of the franchise.
Pops made a living smashing the baseball for the Buccos. He hit .282/.360/.529 with a wRC+ of 145 in his 21 seasons in the Steel City. Stargell walloped 475 home runs along with 423 doubles and 55 triples (not bad for a big guy) to help him drive in over 1500 runs and score almost 1200 times. Stargell finished second in the MVP voting twice (1971 and 1973) and won it in that great 1979 season when he was 39 years old. That year, again seen as the face of the franchise, Stargell hit .281/.352/.552 for a wRC+ of 137 and hit 32 home runs as the Pirates cruised through the National League, winning 98 games and finishing first in their division.
Stargell, of course, wasn’t a complete player, so he ranks lowly on a study like this. He was not a good base runner but Fangraphs rates him as just moderately below average. He was, however, a terrible fielder. He primarily played left field and first base, the two easiest positions on the diamond, and was awful at both. In left field, he was worth -22 runs defensively while at first base he was worth -44 runs defensively. Obviously, all of Stargell’s value comes from his offense.
Stargell (and the Pirates’ brass) struggled constantly with his weight. Stargell would routinely be overweight come Spring Training, once even incurring a fine for his girth. That year, the Pirates put him on a crash course diet, which resulted in him feeling weaker at the start of the season and led to some early struggles. Some of his early struggles could also be related to his original home park. Forbes Field was, of course, gigantic-especially for a left handed power hitter. When Three Rivers opened up, the dimensions were more in-line with modern ballparks, and Stargell began going on a tear. Then in 1975, Stargell broke a rib and began a slow decline. In the following season, he missed considerable time to aid his sick wife, who had suffered a brain aneurysm and then his comeback was aborted due to an elbow injury. Stargell improved in 1978 and 1979, but injuries and balky knees eventually took their toll.
Willie Stargell was, and will always be, an iconic baseball man, and an excellent representative for the Hall of Fame, Major League Baseball, and the city of Pittsburgh. He was a great pick and thankfully got in on first ballot.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck, 9/11/16: This player was the first to sign a contract solely to DH.