Posted by Christopher Johnson | Saturday, January 26th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 18 Comments
How do you know that you lived a great life? When three television stations in your home town cover your memorial service live. When dignitaries fly in from all over the country just to attend. When people you never met either attend the service themselves or stand outside in the cold or elsewhere because you meant that much to them.
We said goodbye to Stan Musial today (there’s some autoplay video at the link but it’s Bob Costas’ wonderful eulogy and it’s well worth watching and listening to). Archbishop Timothy Dolan flew in from New York to help Archbishop Robert Carlson conduct the funeral Mass (kind of figures since Dolan’s from around here). And as you can see from some of the other pictures and video, a great many St. Louisans, if they couldn’t get inside the Cathedral Basilica, stood outside either there or at Busch Stadium.
That’s what he meant to us.
I guess he meant a lot to a lot of other people too because the current issue of Sports Illustrated has him on the cover. In an SI feature on Musial a few years ago, Joe Posnanski relates this story.
There’s one Musial story that has been told many different ways … according to different versions it happened in Brooklyn or Philadelphia; it happened in the top of the ninth or in extra innings. It led to a grand slam or a heroic homer into the lights as in The Natural. The many versions of the story suggest that there were countless other incidents like it in Musial’s career. But this is how the story really happened.
It was April 18, 1954, in Chicago. The Cardinals trailed 3–0 in the seventh, and lefty Paul Minner was on the mound. There was a man on first, one out, when Musial smacked a double down the rightfield line. Or, anyway, the Cardinals thought it was a double. Wally Moon, the man on first, ran around the bases to score. Musial stood happily at second. The Cardinals’ bench cheered. And apparently nobody noticed that first base umpire Lee Ballanfant had called the ball foul.
No footage of the play remains, of course, so we only get what we can read in the newspaper reports: Apparently the ball was definitively fair. Cardinals players came racing out of the dugout to go after Ballanfant, starting with shortstop Solly Hemus. [Augie] Donatelli, the crew chief, who was behind home plate (and who apparently realized that Ballanfant had blown the call), threw Hemus out of the game. Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky was right behind. Donatelli threw him out of the game too. Peanuts Lowrey rushed out, and Donatelli was telling him to get back or he would get tossed too. And it was about then that Musial, who apparently was not entirely sure why there was so much commotion, wandered over to Donatelli.
“What happened, Augie?” Musial asked. “It didn’t count, huh?” Donatelli nodded and said the ball had been called foul.
“Well,” Musial said, “there’s nothing you can do about it.”
And without saying another word, Musial stepped back into the batter’s box and doubled to the same spot in right field. This time it was called fair. The Cardinals rallied and won the game.
The Brooklyn Dodgers pitchers tend to have special memories of Musial because he always seemed to hit his best in New York City. The numbers at the baseball database Retrosheet are not quite complete, but they show that Musial hit .359 with power for his career at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn (and a similar .343 with power at the Polo Grounds against the Giants). It was supposedly Brooklyn fans—based on their griping “Here comes the man again,” when Musial would come to the plate—who created the nickname Stan the Man. They held a Stan Musial Day in New York at a Mets game once. Chicago Cubs fans once voted him their favorite player, ahead of all the hometown stars, including their own lovable Ernie Banks. That was real.
And this one.
Another Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, Joe Black, told me a story once. We were sitting next to each other on a plane when, without provocation, he simply started telling the story, one he has told many times. He was pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals—this was 1952, his rookie year, his best year. Black had come out of the Negro leagues, and he was young, and he pitched fearlessly. He thought this happened the first time he faced the Cardinals; Black pitched three scoreless innings that day. But he wasn’t entirely sure that was the day. What he remembered clearly, though, was the voice booming from the Cardinals’ dugout while he was pitching to Musial.
“Don’t worry, Stan,” that someone from the Cardinals dugout had yelled. “With that dark background on the mound, you shouldn’t haven’t any problem hitting the ball.”
Musial did not show any reaction at all. He never did when he hit. He simply spat on the ground and got into his famous peekaboo batting stance—the one that Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons said “looked like a small boy looking around a corner to see if the cops are coming”—and he flied out. It was after the game, when Black was in the clubhouse, that he looked up and saw Stan Musial.
“I’m sorry that happened,” Black remembered Musial whispering. “But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.”
Yes, Joe Black told the story often—and it’s a good story. But what I remember about the way he told it on the plane that day was how proud Black was to be connected to Musial. This is the common theme when people tell their Musial stories. No one tries to make Musial larger than life—he was only as large as life. He didn’t make a show. He didn’t make speeches. He didn’t try to change the world. He just believed that every man had the right to be treated with dignity.
I only have one personal Stan Musial story. I don’t know exactly where this happened or when but when I was a kid, I was in St. Louis for some reason. Might have been a school field trip or some other group activity and we might have been in or somewhere close by Stan’s St. Louis restaurant.
Anyway, at one point (I think we were on our way home), I look over and there he is. Stan Musial. So I desperately started looking around for something to write both with and on (it didn’t seem quite right for me to ask for Stan’s autograph and expect him to provide both paper and pen). So no Stan Musial autograph for the Editor.
In later years, I got to thinking that even if I’d had both of those things, I wouldn’t have gone over there because I wouldn’t have had the courage. Any other Cardinal, sure.
But that was Stan Musial.
I only learned later on that my view was 100% wrong. If I’d had a pen and some paper, gone over there and shyly asked, “Mr. Musial?” Stan would have not only given me an autograph but made me feel like a trillion dollars just for asking him to sign his name. Considering what Stan Musial was and what modern athletes are now, we weren’t so much mourning the death of Stan Musial as we were mourning this.
We shall, as Shakespeare put it, “never look upon his like again.”