Frank Garland, a native of Pittsburgh, worked for more than 25 years as a reporter at several northern California newspapers and is now the journalism communications program director at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.
While I knew about Wilver Dornell Stargell's on field accomplishments I didn't know about his off the field life. and to Garland's credit he devotes a large part of the book to that part of life before, during, and after Pop's career. Stargell was as large off the field as he was on, working with companies and charities in his adopted hometown, living a full life appreciating music, friendship and fine food. His chicken restaurant in the Pittsburgh Hill district was both a business venture (which nearly went bankrupt because Pirates announcer Bob Prince misreported the "Chicken on the Hill with Will" promotion) and an effort to revive the struggling African-American community.
He was also married three different times with children from multiple mothers, a part of his life as a young fan in the 70s I would not have been able to understand even if sports media had covered athletes with the smothering coverage of today. While Willie was loved and respected on and off the field, even by his ex-wives, he was too human to be a saint. He was even accused after his playing career of providing amphetamines to players, an accusation he denied and which MLB ruled was false.
But on the field and in the clubhouse Stargell was head and shoulders above his peers in both numbers and respect. While I loved Willie for his ability to hit homers (and that windmill pre swing approach at bat) and knew he was a team leader, especially in the magical 1979 "We Are Family" year, Garland provides the evidence from teammates, opponents, and managers from all over baseball of just how big an influence Stargell had on all of them. The testimonials make a fan proud to own his Pirates fandom even through the many down years that have followed. Mr. Stargell was a leader of men.
Garland deserves praise for balancing on and off the field elements of the slugger's life. He clearly did his homework in both research and interviews. I might have liked to know more about the drug charges than just the bare reporting that Garland provides, but that's a small quibble. Willie's life is worth the reading.
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