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:
|Real ’46 totals||156||624||124||228||50||20||16||103||7||73||.365||.434||.587|
|1936 Red Sox||155||684||180||290||64||26||21||150||9||93||.424||.495||.686|
(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 Pujols, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays