The Pittsburgh Pirates, believe it or not, were one of MLB’s top teams in the 1970s.
They have a rich history, but the seventies were perhaps their best decade.
Willie Stargell, a slugging first baseman/outfielder, was behind that success.
Later, in the eighties, the team drafted one of the most talented players in recent memory: Barry Bonds.
He had a stint in the city in the late eighties and early nineties.
Both put up incredible numbers.
Who was the better Pirate, though?
The Case For Stargell
Stargell was a Pirate for life.
His playing career extended from 1962 to 1982, and he completed his brilliant MLB stint with a .282 average, 2,232 hits, 1,194 runs, 423 doubles, 475 home runs, and 1,540 RBI.
He had a 147 OPS+ (OPS adjusted to ballpark).
He led all major leaguers in home runs in the seventies, with 296, and was a true star in Pittsburgh.
Stargell’s Pirates won two World Series, in 1971 and 1979.
In 1979, he was the first (and only) player to win the MVP in the regular season and both the National League Championship Series and the World Series, too.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) February 9, 2022
He has been a Hall of Famer since 1988 and has his number eight retired in Pittsburgh.
With his tape-measure home runs, he brought joy to an entire city.
He retired with seven All-Star Games and two NL home run crowns.
Dead since 2001, Stargell is remembered as a hero in Pittsburgh.
The Case For Bonds
By now, many people are familiarized with Bonds’ career: he won seven MVP awards, broke two of MLB’s most revered records (762 career homers, 73 in one season), and had to deal with steroid accusations that have kept him off the Hall of Fame for now.
As a hitter, he did the bulk of his damage with the San Francisco Giants.
But between 1986 and 1992, he played with the team that drafted him: the Pirates.
On the field, he was quite successful there, winning two of his seven MVPs and establishing himself as one of the game’s premier power-speed threats.
During his stint with the Pirates, Bonds hit .275/.380/.503 with 176 home runs, 251 stolen bases, and a 147 OPS+ (the same as Stargell).
“Barry Bonds is a tremendous talent. I would assume that he’s going to have Hall of Fame credentials by the time he’s done.” – #Pittsburgh #Pirates manager Jim Leyland in 1990. Bobby Bonilla & Andy Van Slyke also comment on Barry’s 1st MVP season. #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/dTO1zVzFA5
— 1986-92 Pittsburgh Pirates (@1992Pirates) January 26, 2022
He also won three Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards.
But Bonds wasn’t well-liked even among his own fans, and the media hated him.
He and the Pirates fought over his contract and he ended up leaving as a free agent.
Prior to that, he played in three Championship Series, but wasn’t very good and couldn’t lead his Pirates to the World Series.
There is absolutely no question that Bonds had the better MLB career.
Forget about all the off-the-field drama: what he did on a baseball field was the stuff of legends, and no one (perhaps only Babe Ruth in the early 1920s) was as dominant as he was in the first half of the 2000s decade.
But Stargell was, by far, the better Pirate.
There is no question.
Bonds’ stint with the Pirates was statistically great, but he didn’t earn the same respect as Stargell did during his time there.
Stargell won World Series there, one of them virtually by himself.
Again, Bonds was the better player, but Stargell was the better Pirate of the two.