Stan Musial represented everything that I believed baseball was when I was a kid. He represented everything that is sorely missing from the game today. He played the game and loved the game for the sake and the beauty of the game. Above and beyond his tremendous accomplishments on the field, Musial was a rarity in life, a class act.
Musial died on January 19 at 92. I hadn’t given him much thought over the years I must admit but his passing has somehow struck me more than anyone not a friend or a relative. I saw him on television in his final major league at bat (the weekly New York Yankee Saturday Game of the Week was interrupted for this) and at the time I had little idea of who he was and what he had accomplished.
The numbers of course speak for themselves. Loudly. 3,630 hit (in an odd quirk he had the exact same number of hits at home and on the road). A career batting average of .331. 1,951 RBI. Three National League MVP awards. He was an All Star 24 times. He was a World champion three times. At the time of his retirement in 1963, Musial held or shared 17 major league records, 29 National League records and nine All star game records.
Off the field he was a successful entrepreneur in the restaurant business. He played his entire 23 year career with the St. Louis cardinals. He has two statues at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 on the first ballot.
In 2011, Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award which can be given to an American civilian.
Born in Donora, Pennsylvania, one of five children, Musial played semi pro baseball at 15 and quickly became a star despite playing against adults. His father had initially resisted the dream of playing baseball professionally but Stan and his mother, after much debate with his father, eventually changed his father’s mind about making the game of baseball into a viable livelihood.
He was originally signed as a pitcher. His batting skills soon outshone any notion the St. Louis organization might have had about Musial being a big league pitcher. His second season in the minor leagues, Musial won nine games but his .352. As with Babe Ruth before him, his batting skills were too great to ignore.
Musial reportedly almost gave up the game in 1940 as he was newly married, had one child and was trying to make ends meet on $16 a week. A shoulder injury in 1939 didn’t help the situation but his then manager and later lifelong friend Dickie Kerr convinced Musial to keep at it, seeing the potential that was lying just below the surface.
In the fall of 1941, Musial was promoted to the Cardinals. The legacy was about to begin.
In the 12 games Musial played in St. Louis in 1941, Musial hit .462 almost helping the Cardinals win the National League pennant that season. The following season he led St. Louis to the World Series, along the way winning the NL rookie of the year award.
In 1954 he became the first player (Nate Colbert replicated the feat in 1972) to hit five home runs in a double header. That day, he also became the only player to ever total 21 bases in a double header.
The highlights go on and on and on.
Stanley Frank “Stan” Musial had the ability and personality fitting one of the all-time greats.
Ty Cobb noted in a 1952 Life magazine article:
No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today…. He plays as hard when his club is away out in front of a game as he does when they’re just a run or two behind.