For a man who is no stranger to showcase events, Willie Stargell is strangely ill at ease as he prepares for his induction today as this year's lone entrant to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"All of a sudden, you get a situation where it's your turn, and you get a call that says, `You've been included in that group (of Hall of Famers),"' Stargell said. "Man, it's mind-blowing. And the closer it gets, I'll be honest with you, the more nervous and crazy my insides are going."Stargell, who was selected to seven All-Star Games and played in two World Series, will become the 200th member of the Hall of Fame in ceremonies today in Cooperstown. He is the 17th person elected in his first year of eligibility.
"There are a lot of people who made, as far as I'm concerned, a tremendous impact on the game who didn't even go in the first time, or the second time or the third time," said Stargell, the Pittsburgh Pirates' all-time leader in extra-base hits, home runs and RBIs.
"Eventually, they've gotten in. But, in view of all these things, you just don't dare to take something that important and so prestigious for granted, so I certainly hadn't."
When Stargell has a chance on his career, it's likely to date back further than the day he broke in with the Pirates in 1962. Stargell, who retired after the 1982 season with 475 career home runs, said it's difficult to condense all he has been taught by others into one speech.
"It's more like an `I thank you' award than to say, `Well, this is my baby and my baby alone,' " he said. "I realize I played the games and had a serious commitment to play it, but so many people are instrumental in molding me, pushing me and caring for me.
"It's such an emotional thing that I'm focusing on. Whew! It's just something that I'm not sure I'm as tough as I thought I was.
"Heck, there've only been 199 people who have had to do this. Hopefully I'll be able to help somebody prepare for theirs if I don't embarrass myself and get too emotional up there."
Stargell said he believes former Pirates owner John W. Galbreath would have been at the enshrinement had health permitted, but Galbreath died July 20. "He had a lot of his character rub off into the organization," Stargell said. "I had awful lot of respect for him."
Stargell said he yearns to return to the game and hopes his own character will eventually rub off on other players. Stargell has been out of baseball since the Atlanta Braves fired him, manager Chuck Tanner and the rest of the coaching staff May 22.