Sports memorabilia is a lucrative business. The estimated global revenue exceeds $7 billion according to multiple sources that track sales and profits. The potential financial gains and visceral connections to items that are transformed from keepsakes to commerce are often the root of contention and emotional pain among those who have a stake in memorabilia.
Such is the case of the family of Willie Stargell, the iconic Pittsburgh Pirates great who was a first-ballot inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988. Stargell died in April 2001 at the age of 61 from complications related to a stroke, having battled a kidney disorder, heart disease and hypertension.
Sixteen years later, his widow and second wife, Margaret Weller-Stargell, has placed some of Stargell’s most treasured baseball memorabilia up for auction to the dismay, disbelief and opposition of his first wife, Delores Stargell, to whom he was married from 1962 to 1983, his five children and multiple grandchildren.
“We are devastated,” said Precious Stargell, a daughter of the two-time World Series champion, from her home in Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday. The auction, which began last Wednesday and concludes today (Thursday), is being conducted by SCP Auctions.
The company’s website promotes “20 cherished items from the widow of Willie Stargell, including the late Hall of Famer’s 1979 National League MVP Award and ’79 World Series ring as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.” Among the items also being sold are his Hall of Fame induction ring. The man affectionately known as “Pops” to a legion of baseball fans played 21 seasons in the majors, all with the Pirates, debuting in 1962 and retiring in 1982.
“It’s unconscionable that we weren’t even informed directly from [Weller-Stargell] that she was selling Dad’s things,” Precious lamented. “We found out via social media. A family friend made us aware of an advertisement for the auction. We initially thought it was a hoax. It is highly upsetting to learn of a seminal event in such an impersonal and shocking manner.”
Led by Delores Stargell, her children wrote an open letter on a Facebook page titled “WS Stargell” conveying their heartfelt reflections on the matter.
“What was totally surprising and hurtful is that my siblings and I have, or thought we had, a great relationship with [Weller-Stargell],” Precious continued. “We had regular contact with her. Attended family gatherings together. Shared group texts…” Precious’s tone became somber and she paused before continuing.
“It’s an understatement to say that the family is crushed. She has every legal right to sell Dad’s belongings. But she could have afforded us the right of first refusal. Once the items are sold on the open market, we may never see them again.
“We have been in contact with representatives of the Hall of Fame who said they would certainly keep his memorabilia in the public eye if it was donated to them. His treasures are not just meaningful to us, but to countless fans as well. We all lived those experiences.”
In a statement, Weller-Stargell presented her position: “Willie made the decision years before his death that he wanted these items left to me because I know that he trusted me to do what was in the best interests of both a game that he loved, the Pirates organization and its fans that he honored and respected.”
“There is no doubt that Willie trusted Margaret to do what she thought best with these items,” Jonathan Stargell, Willie Stargell’s cousin, noted in the release. “I’m confident that he would agree that this auction process will make these items available to passionate sports memorabilia collectors and Pirates enthusiasts.”
Weller-Stargell stands to benefit financially from the auction but asserts she will donate a portion of the proceeds to various organizations and institutions, including the Willie Stargell Foundation and the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., which houses the Willie “Pops” Stargell Dialysis Unit.
Precious was emphatic in expressing that neither Weller-Stargell nor Jonathan Stargell represent the viewpoints of the majority of the family.
“I can assure you we are all unified in our feelings regarding this issue,” she said. “My dad’s legacy is extremely important to us.”