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Stargell statue to grace PNC Park

Saturday, September 30, 2000

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

He always could do it all, and he began his new moment in immortality with a laugh at his own expense.

 
  An emotional Willie Stargell gets a first look at a model of that statue that will go up outside PNC Park. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

"Oh, man. I was happy just playing here. Now you got me where I'm going to be scaring little kids for years to come," Willie Stargell said yesterday.

Then, when the Pirates introduced a scale model of the bronze statue of him that will grace PNC Park, the big man dabbed his watery eyes with a handkerchief.

"I'm overwhelmed, but I'm also thankful," Stargell said. "All I wanted to do was play ball. Now that I have it, you'd catch hell taking it away from me. It's special, very special."

And more than one person at an unveiling inside Three Rivers Stadium joined him in wiping away tears.

A 12-foot bronze statue of Stargell in his familiar batting stance, bat cocked as if he's ready to wallop a pitch, will grace the left-field entrance of PNC Park on Federal Street. It will be the creation of Susan Wagner, the same artist who sculpted the Roberto Clemente statue, which, too, will have a new home at PCN Park.

A Pirates player for 21 years and the franchise's leader in home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits, Stargell invoked Clemente's name several times at the ceremony, which preceded his introduction at last night's beginning of the end for baseball at Three Rivers.

"Roberto, he wanted to do one thing -- win," said Stargell, who later last night before the start of the Pirates-Cubs final series opener received a standing ovation from both benches and the crowd of better than 40,128.

"Lots of wonderful things have happened in this stadium," he said after the applause died down. "I'll never forget you."

 
   
HONORED GUESTS


Willie Stargell is only one of 39 Hall of Famers to have played or managed in Three Rivers Stadium.

The list:

Walter Alston
Red Schoendienst
Leo Durocher
Earl Weaver
Tommy Lasorda
Orlando Cepeda
Sparky Anderson
Roberto Clemente
Ernie Banks
Willie Mays
Bob Gibson
Frank Robinson
Hank Aaron
Brooks Robinson
Juan Marichal
Lou Brock
Willie McCovey
Billy Williams
Willie Stargell
Tony Perez
Nolan Ryan
Don Sutton
Phil Niekro
Mike Schmidt
Steve Carlton
Tom Seaver
Fergie Jenkins
Joe Morgan
Johnny Bench
Al Kaline
Hoyt Wilhelm
Catfish Hunter
Carlton Fisk
Reggie Jackson
Rollie Fingers
Rod Carew
Jim PalmerCarl Yastrzemski

 
 

Stargell joins Clemente and Honus Wagner as the only members of the 114-year-old franchise to be frozen in time in sculpture. Owner Kevin McClatchy called Stargell, an outfielder/first baseman, whose No. 8 has been retired and whose bust graces the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, as "one of the greatest Pirates ever to put on a uniform and one of the classiest people I've had the pleasure of meeting."

Stargell, who shared yesterday's moment with former teammates Steve Blass and Manny Sanguillen, spoke in a soft voice. He is much leaner than he has been in years because of an undisclosed medical condition.

He refused to discuss specifics, saying the cause of the illness that had him laid up in July is a personal matter. But he has weaned himself from a dialysis machine and has rid himself of an infection brought on by a cut finger.

"I've been given the green light to travel. My destiny is up to me," said Stargell, who appeared Thursday in a theater performance in addition to attending the stadium's curtain call for baseball. "I do have a lot of fight in me."

A seven-time All-Star, the man known as "Pops" played on two world championship teams and was National League co-MVP in 1979.

The base for Stargell's statue will be made of stainless steel and granite. Among the Stargell stars adorning it will be one giant gold one bearing Stargell's signature.

The base, designed by Chris Haupt of L.D. Astorino Companies, will include this quote from Stargell's first impression of Pittsburgh, "Last night, coming in from the airport, we came though the tunnel and the city opened up its arms and I felt at home."

Stargell was accompanied by his wife, Margaret, and a number of other family members.

"The moment is wonderful, folks," Stargell said.

Stargell, draped in a gold blazer, grinned as Blass read off his career numbers: 475 home runs (including four in the upper deck and seven over the right-field roof at Forbes Field), 1,540 RBIs, 2,360 games played in a Pirates uniform. He pointed out another number: 1,936 career strikeouts.

 
  "Now that I have [this statue], you'd catch hell taking it away from me. It's special, very special."

"I figure that's four years of sabbatical I could have taken," Stargell laughed. "There's an old saying that the longer you're out of the game, the better you were."

But he also spoke of the pride he had in being a Pirate. That feeling ran so deep that he even handled his soiled uniform with respect after each game.

"I was so proud that not once did I throw my uniform on the floor. That's how particular I was," he said.

Asked what it meant to see the curtain come down on Three Rivers, Stargell answered playfully. "It means I've been around for a long time," he said.

When the laughter stopped, he added: "We won a lot of ballgames. We went through a lot, learning how to win, wanting to win. We had character, we had chemistry. We didn't duck our tails."

He recalled that Three Rivers opened with a playoff appearance in 1970 followed by a World Series crown the following year.

"I'd like to see that new stadium christened with a championship," said Stargell, who currently serves as special assistant to General Manager Cam Bonifay. "I would like to get a millennium ring."



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