Pops, Big Papi similar in talent, personality
Ortiz's commanding presence reminiscent of Pirates great Stargell
When Cooperstown-bound Willie Stargell retired in 1982, we figured we would never see the likes of "Pops" again.
We were wrong.
As we watch David "Big Papi" Ortiz launch moon shots and drive his Red Sox to World Series championships with the power of a personality as big as his formidable body and talent, the image of Stargell, in another time and place, comes sharply into focus.
From the swing-from-the-heels style in the batter's box to the live-for-the-moment lifestyle, Pops was Big Papi long before Ortiz surfaced. The parallels and similarities in these two lives are positively striking.
People who were close to Stargell still feel the deep void 13 years after his death in 2001 at 61.
"One of the greatest men who ever walked the earth was Willie Stargell," Dusty Baker said Friday. "After a while, everyone's forgotten. You have to go to Pittsburgh or Alameda, his hometown near Oakland, to hear people still talking about Willie's greatness. They've got Willie Stargell Avenue in Alameda as a tribute to him.
"Willie was tremendously respected, not only by his teammates, but throughout the game. He used to take me over to his house and feed me. I hear Papi does the same thing with players. Willie taught me about wine. Every time we'd go to Pittsburgh, he'd have a new bottle to show me and tell me all about it."
Ortiz's legendary status in New England is firmly established, just as Stargell forever will be remembered in Pittsburgh and its environs for everything he brought to the Steel City community -- including an improbable World Series title 35 years ago.
Stargell, at 39, shared the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1979 with the Cardinals' Keith Hernandez for his unmistakable impact on teammates as well as his booming, clutch bat.
As ringleader of one of the most raucous bands of ballplayers ever assembled, Pops assumed the leadership role formerly held by his mentor: the late, incomparable Roberto Clemente.
The "We Are Fam-i-lee!" Bucs refused to buckle against a great Baltimore club in the 1979 World Series after sweeping Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in the National League Championship Series, Stargell batting .455 with two homers and six RBIs in three games.
Despite Stargell's homer, double and single, the Orioles took a commanding 3-1 Series lead with a Game 4 victory in Pittsburgh. That's when the big man's voice rose in defiance.
"This is not over!" Stargell shouted with conviction in the clubhouse. His teammates knew better than to doubt Pops.
Taking Game 5, the Bucs returned the Series to Baltimore, where John Candelaria outdueled Jim Palmer, 4-0, in Game 6. This left Game 7 in the hands of Pittsburgh's Jim Bibby and O's lefty Scott McGregor.
Rich Dauer's solo homer had Baltimore in front when Bill Robinson stroked a one-out single off McGregor in the sixth. Wheeling on the lefty's first pitch, Stargell unloaded a mammoth home run to right field to put his team in command. It was the defining moment of his career.
When Kent Tekulve, who worked the final three innings of Game 6, got the last five outs of a 4-1 victory, an exultant Stargell leaped, arms spread, near first base. Pittsburgh had pirated a true Fall Classic, one the blue-collar town would never forget.
With four hits in Game 7, Stargell finished his postseason with a .415 average and 1.362 OPS, bombing five homers with 13 RBIs in 10 games. Ortiz would deliver comparable postseasons for Red Sox Nation in 2004 and 2013.
Stargell spoke eloquently in accepting the World Series MVP Award.
"I wished I could have broken the trophy up into a million little pieces to share with all the fans in Pittsburgh," he said before focusing on his team. "We molded together dozens of individuals into one working force. We were products of different races, were raised in different income brackets, believed in different gods and religions and had varying political beliefs.
"But in the clubhouse and on the field, we were a family."
Big Papi is famous for his own bold declaration, one for the ages, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing: "This is our ... city!"
Pops would have applauded.
"These two guys give you the definition of team leaders," said Baker, a star in his time and three-time Manager of the Year spending this season with family, enjoying life. "They're like father figures to teammates. When they spoke, people listen.
"They both hit the ball out of sight and all over the field, and they're clutch men, the kind you depended on. Both are big Papis -- one in Spanish, one in English. I don't know any other players who were known that way."
Wilver Dornel "Pops" Stargell brightened every room he ever entered with his luminous personality, stature and good nature. He simply insisted that you share his love of life.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1988, Stargell missed the full-blown emergence in Boston of Ortiz, the pride of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. David was 3 years old when Pops Stargell seized ownership of his sport for one glorious summer and fall.
"I've heard from older players all about Willie Stargell, the kind of man he was," said Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter, Ortiz's teammate and buddy in their Minnesota Twins youth. "Pops and Big Papi. Guys like that don't come around very often."
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.