Over his 21-year career with the Pirates, he batted .282, with 2,232 hits, 423 doubles, 475 home runs and 1540 runs batted in, helping his team capture six National League East division titles, two National League pennants and two World Series (1971, 1979).
Stargell was born in Earlsboro, Oklahoma, but later moved to Alameda, California where he attended Encinal High School. He was signed by the Pirates at age 18, and made his Major League debut at the end of the 1962 season. He soon became a standout player, making his first of 7 trips to the All-Star Game in 1964.
In 1973 Stargell achieved the rare feat of simultaneously leading the league in both doubles and homers. Stargell had more than 40 of each; he was the first player to chalk up this 40-40 accomplishment since Hank Greenberg in 1940; other players have done so since (notably Albert Belle, the only 50-50 player). Beloved in Pittsburgh for his style of play and affable manner, Stargell was known for hitting monstrous home runs, including 7 of the 16 balls ever hit completely out of Forbes Field and several of the upper-tier home runs at its successor, Three Rivers Stadium. At one time, Stargell held the record for the longest homer in nearly half of the National League parks. Standing 6 feet 2 inches, Stargell seemed larger, with his long arms and unique bat-handling practice of holding only the knob of the bat with his lower hand combining to provide extra bat extension, Stargell's swings seemed designed to hit home runs of the Ruthian variety. When most batters would use a simple lead-weighted bat in the on-deck circle, Stargell took to warming up with a sledgehammer, adding another layer of intimidation. While standing in the batter's box, he would windmill his bat until the pitcher started his windup.
He was the only player to ever hit a ball out of Dodger Stadium twice; only four home runs have ever left the premises at Chavez Ravine. Stargell's first came on August 5, 1969 off Alan Foster and measured 506 feet—to date, the longest home run ever hit at Dodger Stadium. The second, on May 8, 1973 against Andy Messersmith, measured 493 feet. Dodger starter Don Sutton said of Stargell, "I never saw anything like it. He doesn't just hit pitchers, he takes away their dignity."
Stargell hit the first home at Shea Stadium in the first game played at that arena on April 17, 1964.
In 1978, against Steve Rogers of the Montreal Expos, Stargell hit the only fair ball ever to reach the upper deck of Olympic Stadium. The seat where the ball landed has been since painted in yellow, while the other seats in the upper deck are red. Stargell also hit the longest home run ever hit at Veterans Stadium. The spot where the ball landed was later marked with a yellow star, with a black "S" inside a white circle. After Stargell's death, the white circle was painted black and remained visible until the stadium's 2004 demolition.
Bob Prince, the colorful longtime Pirate radio announcer would greet a Stargell home run with the phrase "Chicken on the Hill". This referred to Stargell's ownership of a chicken restaurant in Pittsburgh's Hill District. For a time, whenever he homered, Stargell's restaurant would give away free chicken in a promotion dubbed "Chicken on the Hill with Will".
Stargell also originated the practice of giving his teammates "stars" for their caps during the 1978 season. Upon a good play or game, Stargell would give fellow players an embroidered star to place on their caps, which at the time were old-fashioned pillbox caps. These stars became known as "Stargell Stars". The practice began in the turbulent 1978 season, when the Pirates came from 12 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies to challenge for the division title. In the bottom of the first inning of the season's penultimate game, Stargell belted a grand slam to give the Pirates a 4-1 lead. After Pirates had relinquished the lead, Stargell sparked a five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, but the Pirates came one run short and were eliminated. Stargell called that 1978 team his favorite team ever, and predicted that the "family" would win the World Series the following year.
The Pirates did just that in 1979, in a fashion similar to the way they had ended the 1978 season: from last place in the NL East at the end of April, the Pirates clawed their way into a first place battle with the Montreal Expos during the latter half of the season, exciting fans with numerous come-from-behind victories along the way (many during their final at-bat) to claim the division pennant on the last day of the season. And Stargell led all the way. At his urging as captain, the team adopted the Sister Sledge hit song "We Are Family" as the team anthem. Then his play on the field inspired his teammates and earned him the MVP awards in both the NLCS and the World Series. Stargell capped off the year by hitting a dramatic home run in Baltimore during the late innings of a close Game Seven to seal a Pirates championship. That World Series victory made the Pirates the only franchise in baseball history to twice recover from a three-games-to-one deficit to win a World Series (in 1925 against the Washington Senators; in 1979 against the Baltimore Orioles).
In addition to his NLCS and World Series MVPs, Stargell was named the co-MVP of the 1979 season along with St. Louis' Keith Hernandez). Stargell is the only player to have won all three trophies in a single year. He shared the Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsmen of the Year" award with NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who also played at Three Rivers Stadium, for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pirates manager Chuck Tanner said of Stargell, "Having him on your ball club is like having a diamond ring on your finger." Teammate Al Oliver once said, "If he asked us to jump off the Fort Pitt Bridge, we would ask him what kind of dive he wanted. That's how much respect we have for the man."
Some observers believe Stargell's career total of 475 home runs was depressed by playing in Forbes Field whose deep left-center field distance was 457 feet. Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente estimated, perhaps generously, that Stargell hit 400 fly balls to the warning track in left and center fields during his eight seasons in the park. Three Rivers Stadium boosted Stargell's power numbers. In his first full season in the Pirates' new stadium, 1971, Stargell led the league with 48 home runs. He won one other home run title, in 1973, his best season he hit 44 home runs and 119 RBI as well as a .646 slugging percentage.
After retirement, Stargell spent several years as a coach for the Atlanta Braves. While working for the Braves, he heavily influenced a young Chipper Jones. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, his first year of eligibility. In 1999, he ranked 81st on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was also nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Stargell was the last person to throw out the first pitch at Three Rivers Stadium. He died of a stroke in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 2001, on the same day that a larger-than-life statue of him was unveiled outside the Pirates' new stadium, PNC Park.
His autographic suggests that he preferred "Wilver" to "Willie", and Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully typically called him "Wilver Stargell".