Wilver Dornel Stargell was born March 6, 1940, in Earlsboro, Oklahoma. Before Willie was born, his father left, and it wasn't until Willie was 19, that they met. Willie’s paternal grandfather helped raise him for a couple years. Willie and his mother later lived in public housing projects in Alameda, California. When he was six years old, he went to Florida to live with an aunt who was very strict. Willie had to do lots of chores and was often spanked. When he was 12, he went back to live in the projects with his mother. He learned to play baseball on the fields around the projects. Willie said, "White boys from richer families were given other alternatives such as the Boy Scouts, family vacations, and field trips. Baseball was all we had." He played on the same high school team as Tommy Harper and Curt Motton, who both later played on MLB teams.
Willie excelled at baseball and was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 18. He had to face racism when he played on minor league teams in New Mexico and Texas. "People treated me like a dog." Willie said. He and other non-white players could not join the rest of the team in restaurants or hotels. They ate on the bus and stayed at the homes of local families. Willie endured the racism because he saw baseball as a ticket to a better life. In 1962, the Pittsburgh Pirates called him up to the major leagues.
Willie often was injured and played with sore knees, but his great strength and warm personality made him popular with teammates and fans. He liked to psych out pitchers. He would warm-up with a sledgehammer. His huge forearms, powerful wrists, and quick hands gave him a powerful swing. Of the 18 home runs that were hit over the right field roof of Forbes Field (the former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates), seven were hit by Stargell. Of the seven recorded home runs that landed in the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium (another former home of the Pirates), four were hit by Stargell. The Montreal Expos painted a seat gold after the home run Willie hit landed on it - 535 feet from home plate.
Besides hitting long home runs, Stargell was one of the great players of his era. He had a career batting average of .282 with 2,232 hits, 423 doubles, 55 triples, 475 home runs and 1,540 runs batted in. He was the National League MVP (most valuable player) in 1979 and was selected as an All-Star seven times. He was part of two World Series championship teams. Stargell was awarded the Babe Ruth award for having the best performance in the postseason; the Roberto Clemente award for sportsmanship, community involvement and contributions to his team; the Lou Gehrig award for contributions to his community and philanthropy; and the Hutch award for persevering through adversity.
Willie said, "I think the black ballplayer should be responsible to the black community. The people, in many ways, helped put him where he is. He should be visible to the kids in the ghetto." He created a foundation to raise funds to fight sickle cell anemia, a potentially lethal blood disorder particularly among African-Americans. There is an annual Willie Stargell Celebrity Golf Tournament that supports the Willie Stargell Foundation which raises money for research and for treating people with kidney disease. Willie opened a fried chicken restaurant and gave away free meals if a customer was in the restaurant when he hit a home run. He was also a team builder. In 1978, Willie started handing out small embroidered stars to his teammates when they had made a good play, and they would put them on their ball caps. He was given the nickname "Pops." Bill Robinson said, "Willie was our crutch. Anything you needed, any problems you had personally or in baseball, he took the burden."
After retiring as a player, Willie was as a coach and manager for the Pirates and Atlanta Braves. The US Postal Service created a Willie Stargell forever stamp. Willie was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988. The Pirates retired his #8 in 1982 and erected a 12-foot bronze statue of Willie at the entrance to left at PNC Park (The Pittsburgh Pirates current home). Willie died on April 9, 2001 from complications related to his kidney disease - the same day PNC was opened.