Willie Stargell 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 23, 2017

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Topps

I have talked on the podcast about how, all things being equal, I would have been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.

The history of the team fascinates me, some of their greatest moments of glory have captured my interest.

But the main reason is because the first World Series I ever watched and have a memory of was the 1979 World Series. That was the “We Are Fam A Lee” World Series between the Orioles and the Pirates. And you could not have seen that World Series and NOT be affected by Willie Stargell.

It still blows my mind that I am older than Willie Stargell was in that World Series. He was called “Pops”. He seemed so much older than anyone else on the team. Look at the picture on this 1978 Topps Card. He was 37 years old when this pic was taken. I guess people looked older back then.

Wilver Dornell Stargell bounced around the country a lot in his childhood. Born in Oklahoma, he called Florida and the East Bay across from San Francisco as his home. He joined the Pirates organization in 1959, just as Branch Rickey’s plan for the team was about to sprout a title. As Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and company won the title in 1960, Stargell was in C ball. Two years later, he made his big league debut.

By age 24, he made the 1964 All Star team. By 1966, the 26 year old Stargell was a 33 home run hitter in a league dominated by some of the most legendary aces in the game’s history.

Stargell was a bit pudgy and the team tried to get his workout regiment going. He lost a ton of weight in 1967 and his numbers dropped. Maybe some people SHOULD play with a gut!

The All Star Games and top 10 MVP finishes kept building up. In 1971, he lef the league with 48 homers and finished 2nd in the MVP race. That year he was one of the emotional leaders on the Pirates team that went all the way. In 1972, he finished 3rd in the MVP race. Stargell was a leader on the Pirates, but it was Clemente’s team. That changed after the 1972 season.

When Clemente died in the plane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1972, suddenly the leadership void was palpable. It was Stargell who filled in. He produced on the field, posting a 1.038 OPS, leading the league in homers and RBI and once again finishing second in the MVP race. But he also provided an anchor for the team, that would make the 1974 and 1975 post season.

After 1974, his numbers began to dip as did the number of plate appearances a year.

In 1979, the Pirates started off slowly. They were in last place at the end of April. But the Pirates started to win, and Stargell’s 1.151 OPS in May helped. ¬†They went on a 6 game winning streak in May and another one into June. But they were a streaky team and were at an even .500 on June 14th.

They went 20-11 in July and 21-9 in August, taking the lead in the Division. In late September, the Pirates behind the Expos with 6 games remaining.

The Pirates rallied around Pops. He crashed a home run in the first inning of a critical game against Montreal. The Pirates would win and not look back, dancing to “We Are Family” the whole time.

As a young version of your pal Sully watched the post season, it seemed like in every moment, Stargell came up big. He hit the game winning homer in extra innings against the Reds in the NLCS. He also homered and drove in 3 in the clincher.

And of course he put the Pirates up for good in Game 7 of the World Series with a towering homer.

The Pirates won, overcoming a 3-1 hole and impressing the hell out of me.

Sabermetics dictate that Stargell wouldn’t even be in the top 5 in terms of stats on his own team in 1979. But people voted for the MVP back then based on the narrative and Stargell leading the team with big hit after big hit was quite a narrative. He would share the MVP with Keith Hernandez, who also put up great numbers.

Stargell made the Hall of Fame in 1988 but died in 2001. Nobody seemed to say a bad word about him, not his teammates, his opponents nor the media. He seemed to be genuinely interested in being a good role model and leader on the Pirates.

I guess as a first World Series hero, he wasn’t a bad choice for me.

 

Dave Parker 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for February 3, 2017

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On the podcast, which if you are reading this I am guessing you subscribe to the podcast, I often refer to “The Rule of Seven.” This refers to my theory that people don’t really start following a sports team in any significant way until they turn 7 years old.

Some do it sooner, other later but 7 is a pretty good average for it.

I turned 7 in 1979 and the first World Series I remembered watching was that year’s memorable and Disco themed “We Are Family” match up between the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Willie Stargell was the emotional leader of the team (and backed up the emotion with a strong bat.) But Dave Parker was the great all around hitter on the squad.

Parker was in many ways the heir to Roberto Clemente. His career did not start exactly after the great Clemente perished over the Gulf of Mexico after the 1972 season. But by 1974, Parker was in right field and the Pirates were a playoff team.

The MVP of 1978, Parker was a batting champ who hit for power and had a cannon for an arm in right field. And after 1979, he was a World Series champ who had a cooler than cool aura about him.

If Pops Stargell was the fatherly steady figure in the clubhouse, Parker was the bad ass trouble maker.

By the early 1980’s he looked like a potential Hall of Famer. When the Cincinnati native became a major figure in the Pittsburgh cocaine trials, his reputation took a dip. (Cocaine seems so quaint now, doesn’t it?)

He continued putting up All Star numbers after being dealt to the Reds. He picked up another World Series ring as a member of the 1989 Oakland A’s, often batting in between Canseco and McGwire (two players who substance abuse was not looked at as Parker’s cocaine reputation hung over him.)

After another All Star appearance with the 1990 Milwaukee Brewers, he finished his career bouncing between the Angels and the Blue Jays in 1991.

Parker’s 19 year career featured five Top 5 MVP finishes, including the 1978 title, multiple Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and was named to the All Star Game in 3 different decades.

Had he picked up 288 more hits over those 19 years, he would have cleared 3,000 and would be a Hall of Famer. Instead he lingered on the ballot for 15 seasons, peaking at 24.5%. Clearly the 10-15% who voted for him over a decade and a half had a similarly positive impression as I had as a kid.

A curious thing about this Topps card. On the back, they featured a cartoon as many of them did.

Take a look at it and see if you can detect the problem.

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Topps Cards had their players be racial neutral. But that means the default is to portray everyone as a dorky white guy, which Dave Parker certainly was not.

So he did not make it to the Hall of Fame and perhaps the Sabermetrics crowd would not embrace him the way I did.

But let’s see anyone else in the Hall of Fame pull off this shirt that Parker wore.

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