Hall of Famer Stargell Is Ailing

Monday, August 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, in poor health for several years, still has not returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates' front office following his second lengthy hospital stay in less than a year.

The hospital stay, believed to be about a month in length, followed a six-week hospitalization last fall after an infection in a cut finger spread through his body, threatening his organs.

Stargell, a special assistant to Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay, was hospitalized after spending several days in Pittsburgh in advance of the June draft.

The 60-year-old Stargell, the NL co-MVP on the Pirates' last World Series championship team in 1979, has undergone dialysis for failing kidneys several times a week for nearly five years.

Stargell recovered from last fall's illness to spend most of spring training with the Pirates, but developed health problems again and has been in Pittsburgh only a few days this season.

Before his health problems became more frequent, Stargell attended numerous Pirates games and scouted their minor league players. Bonifay frequently consulted with him before making player transactions, especially those involving prospects.

Stargell, however, often looked tired during his stays in Pittsburgh and sometimes spent parts of games sleeping in the trainer's room.

The Pirates closely guard Stargell's privacy and declined to reveal the nature of his illness last fall, and did not issue a statement when he was hospitalized this summer. He was hospitalized in Pittsburgh and later at his home in Wilmington, N.C.

Stargell hit 475 home runs during his 20-year Pirates career and estimates he lost 200 more by playing in monstrous Forbes Field in the 1960s. He often is referred to as the Pirates' greatest living player.

``There is no greater icon for Pirates baseball and professionalism than Willie Stargell,'' Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy said.

Stargell starred on World Series championship teams in 1971, when he had 48 homers and 125 RBIs, and 1979. He is the last Pirates player to hit more than 40 homers in a season, 44 in 1973.

Stargell, who once held the record for the longest home run in nearly half the NL parks, saw his statistics decline precipitously after his sore knees worsened in the mid-1970s.

But he revived his career, and led the Pirates to an unexpected World Series championship in 1979, by hitting 32 homers and driving in 82 RBIs. With manager Chuck Tanner carefully picking his spots for him — he didn't start nearly 60 games that season — Stargell was the MVP for the season, the NL playoffs and the World Series.

Stargell hit only 14 homers the following three seasons before retiring in 1982 after the second Willie Stargell day in three years. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He later was a coach for the Braves and the Pirates and was working in the Braves' minor league system when he returned to the Pirates in 1997 at McClatchy's urging.

The Pirates want Stargell to play a featured role in their sold-out, season-closing game against the Cubs on Oct. 1, the final game in three Rivers Stadium, but that may be determined by his health.

Stargell also is scheduled to appear as a guest narrator at a Pittsburgh Symphony concert this fall.