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Baseball's Perfect Warrior- The Stan Musial Story

Posted by on February 12, 2013 at 4:30 PM

If there is a waiting platform or an arrival lounge in Heaven, I am pretty sure that my grandmother Alice, along with thousands or perhaps millions of St. Louis Cardinal fans , put out the welcome banner for Stan “The Man” Musial when he passed away Saturday January 19, 2013 at age 92. Growing up a die hard Chicago Cub fan with a die hard St. Louis Cardinal fan for a grandmother, I grew up listening to stories of the Gas House Gang of the 1930‘s and later the Cardinals near dynasty of the 1960‘s. In between those two Cardinal main-stays was a third, the three time champion Cardinals of the 1940‘s. Regaled with stories about Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby, Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean and more often than the rest of them, Stan Musial, I began a reluctant respect for the rivals 300 miles to the south. As I began to dig into player statistics, I became fascinated with Stan the Man. Beginning with his rookie season when he hit .426 after being led up near seasons end in 1941, Stan Musial crafted, and I use that word carefully, a career that fifty years after his retirement leaves him among the top ten in many offensive categories. The stat sheet on Stan Musial is beautiful to look at. A .331 career average ranks 30th of all time, with only Tony Gwinn hitting a higher average after Stan’s 1963 retirement. His 475 homeruns rank him 28th, tied ironically with Albert Pujols, who had he not gone for the riches in southern California, could have become as beloved as Stan in St. Louis. No one with the exception of Pujols and possibly Paul Konerko is likely to surpass him in the next 3-5 years. His 3660 hits ranks him 4th all-time behind only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. His 6,134 total bases rank him second all time only behind Hank Aaron and his 725 doubles and 174 triples rank him 3rd and 19th all time, respectively. He scored 1949 runs (9th all time) and drove in another 1951 (6th all time). He was named to 24 all-star games ( baseball held two games from 1959-1962) and in addition to the three times he was voted MVP of the National League, he finished in the top ten of the voting eleven more times. When he became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1969, he was elected on the first ballot, named by 93.2 % of all voters. He led the National League in hitting seven times and played all 22 of his seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (missing one year for service in World War II). In addition to all of the hitting accolades, he was probably the one prolific home run hitter that didn’t suffer from the strikeout bug. The chart below shows you his home runs versus strikeouts compared to other slugging greats: Musial: 475 homeruns and 696 strikeouts Aaron: 755 homeruns and 1383 strikeouts Bonds: 762 homeruns and 1539 strikeouts Ruth: 714 homeruns and 1330 strikeouts Mays: 660 homeruns and 1526 strikeouts Robinson: 586 homeruns and 1532 strikeouts Alex Rodriquez: 647 homeruns and 2030 strikeouts Even the great Ted Williams, known as the best natural hitter and with one of the best batting eyes in history hit 521 home runs and struck out 709 times. Statistically though the three “stats” that stick out in my mind, the reason, I gathered my friends and my children around the computer screen to see Youtube highlights of Musial’s career and coverage of this funeral eulogy by Bob Costas are : # of times in 3026 games Stan Musial was tossed from a baseball game by umpire: 0 # of times Stan Musial turned down a young fan’s request for an autograph: 0 (estimated) years married to Lillian , the bride of his youth: 72 (until her death in 2012) Stan Musial gained the nickname “The Man” early in his career, not from his beloved St. Louis fans, but by the rival Brooklyn Dodger fans, who began to chant “here comes the man” when Stan would come to bat. Pretty impressive. Equally impressive was Musial’s handling of baseball’s racial integration. The Cardinals were slow in getting black ball players in comparison to some other teams. By the time Musial’s career was winding down in the early 1960‘s, the Cardinals had three of the best black players in the league, first baseman Bill White, centerfielder Curt Flood and pitcher Bob Gibson. By no means was Stan Musial a soap box yeller about civil rights or integration, but in his own dignified way, he showed his appreciation of mankind, not just white mankind. By the 1961 season, Musial was afforded the right to rent a home on the beach in St. Petersburg during the Cardinals spring training season. Up until this year, black ball players had to live with black St Petersburg citizens, while the other white players shared an apartment. Finally, when the inequity of the situation was presented to St. Louis owner August Busch, he rented an entire hotel for duration of spring training. Musial made his quiet statement, by moving out of his luxury home on the beach and moving his wife and young children into the now integrated Cardinal lodgings. Stan Musial was blessed with a long and healthy retirement. From the time of his retirement in 1963 , until his death in 2013, Musial served as a businessman in the St. Louis area, a restaurant owner, President Johnson’s selection as The Director of Presidential Fitness, a program still taught in schools for achieving certain physical fitness standards for all children to aspire to, and in 2010 was given America’s highest civilian honor, The Congressional Medal of Freedom and during the presentation, President Obama mentioned how Stan became baseball’s first $100,000 per year athlete, only to request a cut in pay the following season when he did not perform up to his standards. Can you IMAGINE a modern player doing that today? I find that I can write and write about Stan Musial. I want to be more like him. I want the occasion of his death to broaden the public’s knowledge of this wonderful man and athlete. As the statue (one of two at the new Busch Stadium) is chiseled, “ here is to baseball’s perfect warrior”. I will close with one last story that Bob Costas shared during Musial’s funeral. Mickey Mantle, the great New York Yankee was a superstar in his own right, but one who was haunted with the demons of alcohol and the fear of early death. Many male members of his family including his father had died in their early 40‘s. Mantle used partying and alcohol to hide his fears. One time when Costas invited Mantle to is home for dinner, he also invited Lil and Stan Musial, knowing that the two greats would share many a baseball story, even though they never played together or even against each other. (except All-Star games). When Mantle found out that Musial would be at the dinner, he told Costas that he would refrain from drinking out of the total respect he had for Musial. Costas later relayed that message to Musial and years later when Mantle, after straightening out his life tragically died at age 64 , baseball mourned. Costas was asked to give the eulogy and the church was packed with baseball dignitaries and famous celebrities, all sitting in a special “invite-only” VIP section. No one would notice that Musial wasn’t there. As I mentioned, Musial and Mantle never played on the same team or were ever linked otherwise. But Stan was there. As Costas relates it, the only time during Mantle’s eulogy where he almost broke down was when looking to the very back of the church, he saw,alone Stan Musial seated by himself and immediately Costas knew that this 75 year old man, woke up in St. Louis, went to the airport and flew across country to pay his respects to a man who respected Stan so much. That was Stan Musial. As I said, I want to be like him, I want to grow like him and I want my kids to be like him. Rest in peace Stan, the Man Musial

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