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Thread: Move this when you see fit

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    Default Move this when you see fit

    but Willie Stargell was my boyhood idol

    Collier: Let's not forget Stargell
    Thursday, April 07, 2011
    By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    Wishing you and yours a happy home opener, but it's not terribly necessary. PNC Park will always be a place where the next home opener has to be happier than its first one.

    It was 10 years ago today, some remember, that the Pirates unveiled and dedicated the massive Willie Stargell statue on Federal Street. Barely 36 hours later, or just after midnight on the day of the first baseball game at the new stadium, Stargell was dead.

    There was almost an audible slap to it, this sudden historical juxtaposition of a grand start and a sickening end, of birth and death, the franchise's stunning jewel of a ballpark cast into the shadows by the overnight passing of its singular patriarch.

    I was standing in Firewaters, the bar across the street, finishing a radio appearance in the cacophony of Pittsburgh's pregame hydration, when I heard Pops was gone. I wandered into the street and looked toward the statue, and there next to it was Kevin McClatchy, trying to deliver the news publicly. I pitied him. McClatchy had agitated for this park and worked for this day against years of roiling political opposition. That his first official function for its inaugural game day was to announce the death of the man whose brilliant slugging performances created the baseball standard McClatchy hoped PNC Park could re-ignite was nearly too ironic for irony.

    "Willie battled," McClatchy was saying as I walked up. "He was pretty sick, but he battled, and Willie Stargell made it to opening day."

    Good try.

    It was around 11 a.m. In my desk across the river, I had the skeleton of Willie Stargell's obituary. I had been assigned to it some months before, or not long after an infection from a cut had triggered a progressive, inexorable shutdown of Stargell's systems. I started walking. I found that skeleton had little more than its indispensable facts -- that Stargell was only the 17th player elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, an All-Star, an MVP, a World Series hero, and advocate for finding a cure for sickle cell anemia, a vocal opponent of the war in Vietnam, that he was the greatest banger of a baseball brand known for its mashers and dating back more than a century -- but the dusty data had no soul, nothing that captured Stargell's gravitas for this day and for perpetuity.

    It needed a quote I could put near the top, a rhetorical pivot I could use to unleash the gathering emotion. And you can't always get one.

    I called Steve Blass at home. I don't remember having to ask him anything.

    "When we heard about Clemente's death at 4 o'clock in the morning, I went to Willie's house," Blass said. "I'm not sure where to go this morning."

    Had he been standing next to me, I'd have kissed him on the mouth.

    I went back to the ballpark, finding my family in the seats down the right-field line. Sat with them and saw the Reds' Barry Larkin take ball one from Todd Ritchie on the first pitch at the stadium. Saw Upper St. Clair's Sean Casey hit the first home run a few batters later. Half an inning over, I went back to the office, past the Stargell statue, which is 12 feet high but seemed about actual size to me.

    When the giants fall, the obits are daunting, almost too great a responsibility. I've done a handful that were really intimidating: Billy Conn, Myron Cope, Stargell.

    I can be counted upon to get the score right most of the time around some menu of wise cracks. Much beyond that, you're taking your chances.

    But not since Bob Prince died on a June night that was too cold and too mean in 1985 had I felt so much hurt for the city and for what Lanny Frattare always called the Pirates family.

    Stargell was only 61. He recently had been brought back to the family by McClatchy to work as a special assistant to then general manger Cam Bonifay after some years with Chuck Tanner in Atlanta.

    I worked the phone and went through my notes again and again. Apparently, at some point, I had talked with Tanner, but I barely remembered it. No one had been more important to Pittsburgh's last World Series champion, more important to Tanner in that quest, than Wilver Dornell Stargell.

    "To learn how to win, you've got to learn how to lose," Tanner said. "I'd always find things that I liked in a loss, and Willie would help me find them."

    Perhaps, it is this season at hand when the Pirates will move demonstrably toward the legacies of Stargell and Tanner, himself taken from us only this February. No. 8 is gone 10 years. No. 7 but two months. And still, it's a great day for baseball.

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    Are these morons getting dumber or just louder-Mayor Quimby

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Move this when you see fit

    Pops had the best batting wind-up ever.... I loved him as well.....
    "You only have one life, and you will not get out alive. Make the most of your time and have no regrets." - Me.

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    Default Re: Move this when you see fit

    He averaged 30 Hrs and 26 doubles a season in the 70's leading the league in homers twice and doubles once, while hitting .280 or better 7 times.
    Are these morons getting dumber or just louder-Mayor Quimby

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    Default Re: Move this when you see fit

    When I pitch baseballs to my 7yr old in the back yard, I have him saying "chicken on the hill" every time he knocks one over the shed.
    Write drunk, edit sober - Ernest Hemingway

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