Los Angeles — The Elder Statesman and captain of the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, 19 -year veteran Wilver Dornell Stargell, is a large and powerful man whose thighs suggest the same kind of strength that girders do on a bridge.
Although 24 other players share the Pirates' locker room with Stargell, the focal point is almost always Willie, who would not look out of place in the black robes of the Supreme Court. Rookies ask him about the best restaurants and the best way to hit certain pitchers, while veterans often take their personal and financial problems to him.
The other day a reporter who caught stargell in the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium was asking him if the Pirates could repeat their World Series heroics of last year, when they defeated the Baltimore Orioles in seven games and he was named the series MVP.
"They say you people might have trouble winning back-to-back championships, Willie," one reporter stated matter-of-factly. "Look at all the good teams that haven't won the second time around."
The writer asking the question couldn't have gotten a quicker response if he had told Stargell that labor leader Marvin Miller had just defected to the owners' side in the recent baseball conflict.
"They!" replied Willie. "Who's They? Man, I never met anybody by that name. You're talking about somebody that doesn't exist. Are you trying to get me to say it's going to be harder for us this year?
"Maybe I don't think it's going to be harder," he continued. "Maybe I think it's going to be easier. I know one thing: If we don't think we can win it again, we sure won't win it again. But I don't think anybody here feels that way, 'cause if they do I want to talk to 'em."
That's the Stargell who could motivate molasses, who calls Enrique Romo "Pancho Villa," and who says that pitcher Jim Bibby's hands are too big to play baseball. And nobody touches the $6,000 worth of stereo equipment the Pirates have in their locker room without first checking with Willie.
The team's all-time favorite rock group, of course, is Sister Sledge, because , as the Pirates' 6 ft. 3 in., 230-pound first baseman has said so many times, "we are also 'fama-lee."
Anyway, it would take a fly two days just to walk around one of Stargell's wrists. Willie could probably drive railroad spikes without benefit of a hammer. Handing him a baseball bat is like handing most people a Popsicle stick.
Nobody can ever seem to remember Stargell boasting, complaining, or getting himself thrown out of a game for bad behavior. And if you can find a story on Willie where the writer fails to say that he leads by example and not intimidation, save it, because it's one of a kind!
When it was announced last year that a couple of baseball writers voting for the National League's most valuable player didn't have Stargell's name among their first 10 picks, many people were shocked.
But Willie, who shared the MVP award with first baseman Keith Hernandez of the St. Louis Cardinals, would not make an issue of it. And that, as Pittsburgh teammate Dave Parker said, "is what I call class."
When Stargell hits a home run (and he had 461 going into this season), there is seldom any doubt of its destination. Willie is the only batter ever to hit a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium, where the fences back up to the Anaheim city limits -- and he has done it twice.
Before the Pirates moved into Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, Stargell blasted seven home runs over the right field roof at ancient Forbes Field that had the country's UFO people in shock. And last year Willie became the first hitter to reach the upper right field deck in Busch Stadium, ST. Louis.
When somebody told Stargell recently that Parker had called him his favorite player, Willie replied: "Man, that's quite an honor, considering Parker used to be his own favorite player."