Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stan “The Man” Musial

I was recently amazed when my collaborator admitted he had never heard of Stan Musial. My father has always told me that it’s OK for men to cry, but his advice is a little more enlightened than his actions. If my father cries it’s almost always because a member of his immediate family has died. The only exception to this I remember was the day in September 1963 when Stan Musial played his last game with the St Louis Cardinals. Copious tears were running down my father’s cheeks. Since he and Stand are almost exactly the same age, over 90, I’m sure it was wrenching for my father to say goodbye to a piece of his youth.

Stan Musial played 22 years with the Cardinals. His lifetime batting average of .331 is one of the best ever, and he hit 275 home runs. At the time of his retirement, he led the National League with a career total of 3,630 hits. Amazingly, that total included 1850 at home and 1850 on the road. Those figures would be even higher if not for the year he spent serving in the Navy in WWII. It wasn’t just that Musial played well. The reason why he is a living legend in St Louis is the way he conducted himself. In 22 years, Musial was never ejected from a game. Henry Aaron enjoys telling the story that when barnstorming down South, he frequently had to eat his meals in the team bus. Stan Musial was the only white player who would grab a plate and join him. Aaron and Musial had an excellent relationship as part-time teammates. I’m sure the thought of facing Musial and Aaron at successive at-bats was enough to make pitchers wake up screaming.

There’s one other Musial story that’s still told almost half a century after his retirement. In one game, the Cardinals were trailing by 2 runs in the ninth inning during a tight pennant race. They managed to put two men on when Musial came up to bat and hit a screaming line drive down the right foul line good for what seemed like at least double when the umpire unexpectedly called the hit foul. While Musial was rounding second base, the entire Cardinals bench emptied, and 24 enraged Cardinals and their manager were screaming at the umpire calling him everything but a precious child of God.
Slightly bewildered, Musial ambled in from second base, and when he heard what had happened, he raised his hand and said, “Guys, he called the ball foul.” Shamed into silence, the fuming cardinals returned to the dugout and two of his teammates returned to their bases. On the next pitch, Musial hit another screaming line drive that cleared the fence for a home run and a Cardinal victory. There was only one Stan “The Man” Musial.

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