Any player/Any era: Stan Musial

Claim to fame: There’s no better player to write about this Thanksgiving than a baseball legend who turned 90 on Sunday. In his 22 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, Stan Musial established himself as one of the most beloved players in baseball history. Even now, nearly 50 years after his Hall of Fame career ended in 1963, Musial remains an iconic figure. A public campaign for Musial led to an announcement on November 17 that he’ll receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country.

In a sense, though, I think Musial is underrated. Sure, there’s the universal adoration in the baseball world and the celebration of his impressive stats, like his .331 lifetime batting average, .976 OPS or 3,630 hits, among the best numbers ever. Still, I don’t know if it’s understood that Musial had one of his best seasons– 1946 when he was National League MVP and led the Cardinals to a World Series title—in a year that favored pitchers. If we transport Musial and his .365 batting average that season to a great year for hitters, he might have hit .400.

Era he might have thrived in: It’s really not a question of what year Musial might have hit .400 in, but how many different ones would have allowed it. Here are five sure bets:
1. 1901 with the Philadelphia Athletics
2. 1925 with the St. Louis Browns
3. 1930 with the Philadelphia Phillies
4. 1936 with the Boston Red Sox
5. 1999 with the Colorado Rockies

Why: First, we have to look at what Musial lost in 1946. Baseball was returning from World War II, and even Musial, who played through most of the war, missed the 1945 season serving in the navy. Returns from long breaks generally favor pitchers, possibly due to timing issues that hitters encounter getting back into gear—just look at the gaudy pitching numbers every April and May. In 1946, this lasted for a season, with each National League team averaging 3.958 runs per game (by contrast, in 1930, the NL average was 5.684 runs.) World War II signaled the shift in baseball from the hitter-happy 1920s and ’30s to a game where less runs were scored, fewer players hit .380, and pitchers came to dominate.

Musial had another thing working against his numbers in 1946. While he played on a championship club, it hit a modest .265 with just three players over .300: Musial, Enos Slaughter, and Whitey Kurowski. Slaughter, like Musial, turned in a stellar season and later made Cooperstown, but in another era, Musial might have had a superior teammate to boost his average higher. After all, Babe Ruth had Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb had Harry Heilmann, and Willie Mays had Willie McCovey. In the arrangement here, Musial could be teammates with Napoleon Lajoie on the Athletics, George Sisler on the Browns, or Jimmie Foxx on the Red Sox, among other Hall of Famers.

If we plug Musial into any of these teams he thrives. Obscenely. With the help of the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com, here are his stats from each club:

Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB BA OBP SLG
Real ’46 totals 156 624 124 228 50 20 16 103 7 73 .365 .434 .587
1901 Athletics 138 595 148 245 54 22 18 123 8 78 .412 .482 .667
1925 Browns 155 666 163 272 60 24 20 136 9 87 .408 .479 .661
1930 Phillies 155 686 182 292 64 26 21 152 9 93 .426 .497 .687
1936 Red Sox 155 684 180 290 64 26 21 150 9 93 .424 .495 .686
1999 Rockies 163 730 200 316 70 28 23 167 10 101 .433 .504 .700


(If the Colorado numbers make anyone wonder how well other all-time greats might have done with the ’99 Rockies, check out this post from July.)

There are probably many other teams Musial could have hit .400 on. He was a .400 hitter in everything except his era. In life, he’s been something more.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

7 thoughts on “Any player/Any era: Stan Musial

  1. Stan the Man was never underrated when he played. He was considered one of the greatest ever while he was still playing. He certainly was a much better all-round player than the Splendid Splinter was. It’s obvious that Stan’s mild-mannered nature did not attract the attention of more charismatic players like Dimaggio, Williams, Mantle and Mays.

  2. Hi Alvy,

    I don’t know if I was saying Musial was underrated in his time. I just think people get so caught up in what his image represents today, as an icon from better days for baseball, that they may not recognize the full range of Musial’s athletic prowess.

  3. Just wondering if Musial was slow a foot or just not expected to run much. He had alot of doubles and triples that would indicate speed. My dad said he hit alot of line drives in the gaps and down the lines also.

  4. Sorry Graham, I didn’t quite write my comment correctly. I actually agreed with you that since his retirement Musial has slowly become a forgotten man and had lost the spotlight to more charismatic and controversial peers like Williams, Mays, Mantle, etc. Much in the same way that Hank Aaron did almost until Barry Bonds started challenging Aaron homerun record. Now Hank is deservedly a grand ol’ man of the game as Ted Williams was and finally getting his due. Musial finally did start getting some recognition some time after Teddy Ballgame passed away, but poor Stan has been increasingly ill and cannot take advantage of even the little acclaim he’s gotten. Truth is, that in his day, he was feared and respected by opposing players and fans and was a living icon, but perhaps his good nature and joyfully staying out of the limelight in St. Louis, unlike Ted Williams has made him the odd man out. But what a great player. I’m from Brooklyn where “Stan da Man” was actually coined, and the loved to hate him there with a lot of affection and respect.

  5. Old side armer, Musial wasn’t a speed demon in the likes of Mantle or Mays but he had decent speed and was a very smart baserunner.

  6. Stan The Man was also known as The Donora Greyhound. He was from Donora, Pa. You forgot already that he led the league in triples five times, and in doubles eight times. You can’t reach those bags without some speed. Stan always seems to be getting the short end of the deal. Only the fastest men always hit the most triples, but first, you have to hit the ball in the gaps or down the line all the time.
    In 1948, he led the league in everything but homers. He missed that by one because he had one rained out before the fifth inning, or else he would have been the only man in MLB history to have led in everything in the same year.
    He came the closest.
    I read that some idiot voters in some poll named the all-time team from the 20th century, and Stan was not even on it. That shows what they know today, which, apparently, is not too much. When Bud Selig saw the list, he added Stan’s name at once.

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