Stargell, who has long been an institution in Pittsburgh and still favors the city over the suburbs, finds the praise that his resurgence has drawn "a little embarrassing." He downgrades his comeback by crediting it to an old secret—"closing my eyes and swinging hard."
A more likely explanation for the resilience of the Pirates' alltime leading home-run hitter ("I'd have about 600 if I hadn't played seven years in Forbes Field") is that he and his teammates are, as usual, fighting for the division title. Living up to their reputation as free swingers, the Pirates have batted .279 since the All-Star break and their 20-10 record during that period moved them 1� games ahead of Montreal by the end of last week. "I probably would have retired long ago if we hadn't been contenders all these years," Stargeli says. "It helps to have a cause to shoot for, to have everything on the line. I run my best race down the stretch."
Whether he is making a stretch run or mugging it up with the Pittsburgh fans, as he did on a recent Camera Day, Star-gell's pleasure comes from enjoying life and helping others to do the same. He is chairman of the Willie Stargeli Foundation, which sponsors many activities for children in the area and is active in the fight against sickle-cell anemia. When Stargeli is asked to sign an autograph, he does so willingly, and he makes the occasion even more memorable for the fans by engaging them in conversation.
Stargell's view of baseball is refreshingly down home. "We're only playing out there," he says. "If we have to concentrate so damn hard that we can't have fun, we may as well put on a suit, sit in an office and give dictation to some secretary—that's how a business should be run. When I lose the desire to go out there every day, then I'll let some other excited youngster enjoy it. Until then someone will have to take it away."
Clearly, that time is not at hand. "When I think of old, I think of 300-year-old sheep," Stargeli says. "It's a shame people dwell on age, because they give in to it. People said I was washed up, but if I think I'm qualified to do something, nothing's going to hold me back. If I quit because I let someone influence me, it would eat my heart out."
So nobody is pushing Pops aside, not the pitchers in the National League, not even Dave Parker.