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.

 

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 8, 2017

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Photo: Kevin Sullivan

All things being equal, I would have been a Pirates fan. I have always gravitated towards them.

The current version of the Bucs are at an agonizing crossroads.

Celebrate the Fam A Lee in this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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Miguel Dilone 1979 Topps -Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 1, 2017

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Miguel Dilone had bad timing in his baseball playing days in terms of making it to October.

He also had bad timing for the era he played in.

Then his bad timing continued long after his baseball career ended.

He was signed by the Pirates as a 17 year old in 1971, he understood something that is painfully obvious now: On base percentage is more important than batting average if you have speed. He did not hit for a high average in the minor leagues, but his on base percentage was solid as was his stolen base abilities.

He piled up the stolen bases and earned a few cameos on the big league squad in Pittsburgh between 1974 and 1977. He never got to play in the post season for Pittsburgh and the outfield was crammed with Richie Zisk, Dave Parker, Al Oliver and later Omar Moreno.

The little playing time he did get in Pittsburgh was not enough to justify a starting job, even though he managed 12 steals in only 29 games.

After the 1977 season, the Pirates wanted fan favorite Manny Sanguillen back from Oakland. Dilone was part of the package in the deal. With a miserable 1978 A’s team, Milone started 71 times, stole 50 bases but was caught 23 times. The team did not draw at all and it isn’t clear if this picture from the card was taken during a game or not.

In 1979, the arrival of another speedster outfielder, Rickey Henderson, made Dilone expendable again. This time he was shipped to the Cubs. There he batted .306 as a part time player.

The Indians purchased his contract for the 1980 season and out of nowhere he had his best season. He batted .341, swatted 30 doubles and 9 triples while stealing 61 bases. He actually got some votes in the MVP race and at age 25 seemed to have found a home in Cleveland.

He had another fine season in 1981, but started wearing out his welcome with a perceived lack of hustle.

By 1983, he was back in the minors and bouncing from organization to organization, spending one week with the White Sox before heading back to Pittsburgh. After cameos with the Expos and Padres, his career was done.

His son, Miguel Jr., played a few years in the Rockies organization. While throwing batting practice with him in 2009, Miguel Sr. was struck in the face with a line drive. The damage to his eye was permanent. He lost that eye.

Timing for Miguel Dilone was awful. He played for the Pirates and A’s in the 1970’s and somehow never made a World Series appearance. He played in an era where on base percentage was ignored and showed up to Oakland just as Rickey Henderson was arriving.

And oh yeah, baseball took his eye.

Bad timing.