I feel like ol’ Willie gets forgotten when people talk of the old great ballplayers. His positive attitude, “We Are Family” aura and late-career pudginess make him seem like a grandfatherly type who also happened to hit some homers. Some of that may be true, late in his career. But he was not always a lumbering, paternal first baseman.
For the bulk of Stargell’s career, he played Left Field. He wasn’t particularly good at it, but he was not so bad either. He never stole many bases, but his base-running scores tend to show that he was savvy and made good decisions on the base paths. It was his bat, however, that people should never forget.
As a sparkling starting point, Stargell had two seasons with a wRC+ of 180 or higher. Willie Mays and Miguel Cabrera have each done that only once. Stargell’s career 145 wRC+ is just a touch below that of Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson, who both finished with 153. It puts him slightly ahead of where Giancarlo Stanton and Alex Rodriguez currently stand (143). Not bad.
While his 1979 MVP year wasn’t as impressive as many of his best seasons, he swatted five home runs in the post-season that year, leading the Bucs to the World Series title with an OPS of 1.362 in ten games. During the regular season between 1966-75, he finished in the top 5 in OPS six times, leading the league twice.
It is easy to lose perspective as we get farther away from his era. While many baseball fans might know that he matched Stan Musial with 475 career homers, many probably don’t know that, at the time of his retirement in 1982, that was good enough to land him at 14th on the all-time list.
At #14 on the all-time Home Run list, having posted two 180 wRC+ seasons and slugging 5 homers en route to a second WS championship, we can better appreciate the great hitter that Stargell was.