hankrules2011

Book reviews, health, hockey, publishing, music, tech

Posts Tagged ‘Hall of Fame’

A Review of Willie Stargell: A Life in Baseball

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 5, 2016

Willie Stargell: A Life in BaseballWillie Stargell: A Life in Baseball by Frank Garland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve got to be honest. When I was a kid, Willie Stargell was my favorite baseball player. Actually, he has been my whole life. But see, he was my favorite player to see in person! I lived in the Pittsburgh area back in the 1970s and went to as many Pirates games as possible, so I got to see “Pops” play a lot and got to see the magical “We Are Family” 1979 World Series year and remember those wonderful Stargell stars everyone loved and the home runs, god, the home runs! Willie Stargell “only” hit 475 career home runs – because he played half of his career in gigantic Forbes Field, which I’ll get to in a moment, but which is estimated to have robbed him of some 150 career home runs, which is staggering by anyone’s standards – but the thing I think Stargell is best known for is his towering strength, how damn FAR he could hit his balls! Hitting balls out of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Hitting balls out of Dodger Stadium multiple times. Hitting balls out of Philly’s Veteran’s Stadium. Hitting the upper deck and roof of gigantic Forbes Field numerous times. Hitting the ball out of the ballpark at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field replacement, Three Rivers Stadium. There’s an entire chapter in this book dedicated just to this! 506 feet at Dodger Stadium. 458 feet into the upper deck at Three Rivers. May 20, 1978: 515 feet, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. 475 feet onto right grandstand roof at Forbes Field, 1967. He also had the longest home run at Houston’s Astrodome: 490 feet on May 28, 1966.

Of course, Stargell was more than just amazing home run power. He was also a great hitter, finishing a 20-year career with a very good lifetime average of .282. Perhaps far more importantly, he was a great natural leader, from a very young age. He led quietly and he led by example. When he came up in the majors, Clemente was his leader, took him under his wing, became his friend and example. After Clemente’s premature death, Stargell assumed his role in the clubhouse and never relinquished it and remained the effective team captain for the rest of his career, which prepared him for his post-playing days of working with his ex-manager, Chuck Tanner, in the Braves system to coach and evaluate young ball players in Atlanta for a number of years before ultimately winding back in Pittsburgh for the last couple years of his life before he died a very, very premature death at age 61, I believe. This book was also enlightening in that it showed how a young man from northern California, brought up in an integrated area in the 1950s, is thrust into the deep south and southwest, and is made to play in the minors during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and is made to suffer humilities and indignities and taunts and things that would have been hard to imagine 15 years ago, as I write this in 2016, if we hadn’t have seen the true colors of the Republican Tea Party as the racists in them come out to show their hatred of Obama and black and Hispanic people everywhere, which makes it stunning to see how far we have NOT come since then. Simply stunning. And very sad. Whatever the case, Stargell survived without anything of an outward complaint, made the big club as an outfielder, had a serious arm rivaling Clemente allegedly, but was ultimately moved to first base, started hitting serious home runs, made some all star teams, helped win the World Series in 1971, when Clemente was the MVP, won the World Series again in 1979 when he was the Series and league MVP and retired in 1982. Stunningly, he never even made half a million dollars a year in his career and indeed, never made much money at all until the final few years of his career. How someone so talented and how someone who became the 17th player to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballet could go so damned unpaid, essentially, is beyond me, but I guess that’s what owners do, so there you have it. He had advertising deals and other things to supplement his income. He also had a sickle cell foundation because his sister had the disease.

While this book certainly sings Stargell’s praises, it’s not all fun and games. It also discusses his three marriages (but how he got along with all three wives, during and after all marriages) and five children through four women (and how they all got along together as in one big, happy family, amazingly). It discusses allegations two former colleagues made against him in the 1980s that he gave them drugs, which tarnished his reputation. Needless to say, this was looked into thoroughly, as was the case with everyone named in the investigation. Stargell’s name was personally cleared by the baseball commissioner. He had done nothing wrong.

The first thing Stagell did upon retirement was agree to perform in a symphony performance made just for him by a Pulitzer winning composer in which he would perform spoken word content set to symphonic music about Martin Luther King, Jr., one of his heroes. He was excited, but very nervous. So were the composers and musicians. However, he tackled it with his usual professionalism and did quite well. Their first performance was, I believe, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. He acquitted himself well. Indeed, as they traveled the country performing, he did better and better so that he became quite a star in a brand new field. This chapter was quite interesting and I confess I knew nothing about this part of his life.

Stargell’s last few years are painful to read about. His last few years were spent on dialysis. Yet he was still working, first for the Braves, then for the Pirates. Then his overall health started failing and he started losing weight and feeling quite a bit of pain. During his last year, he became unrecognizable to former teammates who encounter him in airports and other places. He tried to avoid people, as he didn’t wish to be seen in this condition. On April 9, 2001, in honor of the opening of the Pirates’ new ballpark, PNC Park, and only the third such new statue, a new large bronze statue of Willie Stargell was unveiled publicly outside the entrance to the park. Unfortunately, Willie couldn’t be there. More unfortunately, he couldn’t be there because he had just died during the night. He’d never get to see the new park or the amazing new statue for which he felt so amazingly honored. People were stunned. He was too young. He was Pittsburgh. He was the Pirates. He was “Family.” He was one of the most beloved Pittsburgh athletes of all time. And now he was gone. Just like that. While his service was in North Carolina, where he had most recently lived with his third wife, a large service was held at a church downtown near where Willie lived and worked for decades. He loved working with the people of the city, of the inner city, with the young people. He loved teaching, giving people hope. And now he was gone. Utter tragedy.

475 career home runs. When he retired, that was a lot. Since then, a lot of hitters have passed him by. But frankly, most of those players have been from the steroid era and are suspect, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa. So do they even count? Unfortunately, they’re in the books and records ahead of him and nothing can be done about that and that boils my blood. Even more unfortunately, he played half of his career at gigantic Forbes field. I said I would address that. Let me. PNC Park has these basic dimensions – 320 feet to the left and right field walls, 399 feet to center field. Going off my memory, Forbes Field was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and a gigantic 462 feet to center! No wonder Clemente drove in a ton of runs but was a doubles hitter and not a big home run hitter. No wonder the most home runs Stargell ever hit in a season was 48. So, if the estimate that Forbes Field robbed him of 150 home runs is accurate at all, he could have finished with 625 home runs, which would have placed him pretty high up the career list by anyone’s standards. It’s a real pity that couldn’t have occurred.

For some reason, this book only has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads, yet every review I’ve read – all four and five star reviews – have nothing to say about how to improve the book. Frankly, I don’t know if this is the BEST sports biography I have ever read, but offhand, I can’t think of a better one and I’ve read a ton of them. This is a very good book. It’s well researched, it’s detailed, comprehensive, well written, has good pictures, is edited well. It’s a good book. A very good book. I can think of no reason not to give it five stars. I can think of no way to improve this book as a sports biography or as a biography of Willie Stargell. So, how can this not be a five star book then? I think Frank Garland did an excellent job and I’m really glad I bought and read this book. I learned a lot about my childhood hero and I’m glad that he remains a hero of mine and always will be. Good old number 8. One night, I was at Three Rivers in the upper deck and Willie hit the ball and he hit it straight up and it went up a mile. He hit it out of the stadium. I’ve never in my life seen a ball hit so far straight up. It went way past my head and kept on going, up, up, up past the top of the stadium before finally starting to fall straight back down. It took forever. It was a foul ball. He was out. The first baseman caught it. But it was one of the most impressive non-hits I had ever seen. What strength! I’ll never forget that. And of course, I got to see a few of his awesome home runs too. I’ll never forget the feeling that I was honored to see those. Willie Stargell graced us with his presence. He graced Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Oakland with everything in his life. He had a lot to give and he always gave a lot. As long as people remember him, he will be missed. In my biased opinion, Willie Stargell will always be the best, most feared home run hitter of all time. Five star book. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

10 Greatest Steelers

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2013

This weekend I watched a program on the NFL Network on the 10 greatest Pittsburgh Steelers of all time. It was apparently a rerun from 2010, but it was still good. But I have a beef with their list. I couldn’t believe some of the players on the list and not on the list! First let me say that coming up with such a list is virtually impossible, because there are so many Steelers in the NFL Hall of Fame. Whittling it down to 10 just doesn’t seem fair. You’re going to leave some deserving players off the list. And what about the great Steelers who aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame, like Jerome Bettis? Don’t some of them deserve to be on the list? Anyway, here’s the NFL Network’s list of the top 10 Steelers of all time:

  1. Joe Greene
  2. Terry Bradshaw
  3. Franco Harris
  4. Rod Woodson
  5. Jack Lambert
  6. Mel Blount
  7. Troy Polamalu
  8. Hines Ward
  9. Lynn Swann
  10. Jerome Bettis

OK, wow. Talk about the immortal Hall of Famers left off the list ! What about the greatest center to ever play the game, Mike Webster? What about possibly the greatest outside linebacker ever, Jack Ham? Both Hall of Famers? What about the second greatest center ever, Dermonti Dawson? Hall of Famer. What about Hall of Fame wide receiver John Stallworth? It almost seems a crime to separate him from Lynn Swann. I mean, they were a matched pair. They complemented each other so well. Stallworth actually had the better season and career stats. What about some of the old timers like John Henry Johnson and Ernie Stautner, both Hall of Famers? And what about Ben Roethlisberger, who has won two Super Bowls and is breaking Terry Bradshaw’s records? Wouldn’t you think he belongs on the list over Troy Polamalu, who’s been injury prone?

I have two major complaints about players on the NFL Network’s list. First, I don’t think Troy belongs on it at all. Maybe top 20 Steelers, but not top 10. He’s still playing and while he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year one year, he’s not yet a Hall of Famer. You can’t leave Jack Ham off the list for Troy. Second, I can’t believe you would list Rod Woodson at #4!!! Over Mel Blount, the best cornerback of all time??? The player the NFL forever changed the game because of? Until 1978, defensive backs were allowed to hit wide receivers anywhere on the field at any time. Mel Blount beat up so many wideouts, they changed the rule to just the first five yards, which is where it’s been ever since. They called it the Blount Rule. And he still went to Pro Bowls after the rule change. He finished with 57 career interceptions too, in addition to being a fierce hitter. Even Rod Woodson said on the program he doesn’t deserve to be placed over Mel Blount. That should say something. And besides, Woodson never won a Super Bowl with the Steelers! He won as a Raven in 2000, and took the Steelers to one Super Bowl which they lost to Dallas. I’m not sure I would even have him on the list of the top 10 Steelers, especially over Webster or Ham.

Here’s my list:

  1. Joe Greene
  2. Jack Lambert
  3. Terry Bradshaw
  4. Mel Blount
  5. Franco Harris
  6. Jack Ham
  7. Lynn Swann
  8. Hines Ward
  9. Mike Webster
  10. Jerome Bettis

See? Mine’s much better. LOL! Mean Joe Greene comes first because he changed the face of the team, from a losing team to a Super Bowl winning defense, anchoring the line and changing the game with his unusual stance from which he decimated opponents. Lambert comes next, closely, because he’s the best middle linebacker in history. He was the fiercest, meanest, nastiest, biggest hitting linebacker in history. Pittsburgh wouldn’t have won four Super Bowls without him in the middle. Terry comes next because he’s the only quarterback to win four Super Bowls, he won two Super Bowl MVPs, and he’s possibly one of the biggest “money” quarterbacks of all time. I mean, he could really win the big games. Great quarterback who didn’t put up the big stats because the game was different when he played. Blount comes next because he’s the greatest cornerback in the history of the game. Franco comes next because when he retired, he was the second leading rusher in NFL history, only behind Jim Brown. He’s still high on the list with over 12,000 career yards. That’s certainly worth something. Ham comes next because he’s possibly the best outside linebacker to ever play the game. Swann comes next, although I have mixed feelings about it. He never put up great stats. I’m not even sure he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But he was a major big game player and won huge games for the Steelers and will always be one of the best loved players in Pittsburgh history. Hines Ward comes next because he’s a sure Hall of Famer down the road. He finished as easily the all time leading wide receiver in Pittsburgh history with 1,000 career receptions, which is 8th best in NFL history, and 86 touchdowns. He’s also a Super Bowl MVP. Definitely deserves to be on the list. Webster deserves to be higher than 9th, but as an offensive lineman, he couldn’t put up the big stats like the others, so it’s hard to measure him against the others. He’s the best center to ever play the game, went to I believe nine Pro Bowls, and is sorely missed with his death of a few years ago. Hall of Famer. Bettis comes in at 10 because he finished his career as the leading Steeler rusher in Pittsburgh history, breaking Franco Harris’s record. He’s got the single season record for rushing too, I believe. When Jerome retired after winning a Super Bowl, he was the 5th leading running back of all time, I think. It’s an absolute crime that he hasn’t made it into the Hall of Fame yet. I’m pretty sure he will, but he should have by now.

So that’s my list. It hurts to leave players like LC Greenwood and Donnie Shell off the list, Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene, Carnell Lake, definitely Stallworth, Andy Russell, Big Ben, and so many others. They’re all deserving, but if it’s the top 10, you have my list. What would your list look like?

Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »