THE MAN

Saturday, January 26th, 2013 | Uncategorized

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.

This one.

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.”

18 Comments to THE MAN

Katherine
January 26, 2013

A great baseball player, a thoroughly decent man and a devout Catholic Christian. There was a hero worth having. RIP.

sybil marshall
January 26, 2013

Beautiful, Christopher. Ditto, Katherine.

Dale Matson
January 26, 2013

He played out his 22 year career with the Cardinals. Al Kaline played all of his career (22 years) with the Tigers. Al is still around but both were reasons I followed baseball. Both humble men.

Dr Alice
January 26, 2013

I wish that more professional athletes today were like him. “Role model” is not a warm enough phrase to describe him.

Rondon
January 27, 2013

Chris,
I don’t remember Stan Musial’s career as he was before my time and I don’t live in St. Louis. I’m from Pittsburgh and Mr. Musial was born and raised in a small town just outside of Pittsburgh. My father was a huge baseball fan as I am still, although being a Pirate fan has proven a gruesome form of penance over the last 20 years. My dad’s favorite players while growing up and as a young man were Ralph Kiner, the Pirate home run hitter, and Stan Musial.
Skipping ahead many years, my mom and dad went to bingo every Saturday night. There they met a kind older woman who was a widow named Rose. They developed a friendship with her and picked her up for bingo and drove her home afterwards. One night at bingo my dad was talking about baseball and Rose had mentioned she used to attend many Pirate games especially when her brother came to town. At first my dad thought her brother was a Pirate fan who lived out of town. Then she told him that her brother was Stan Musial. In all the years my mom and dad knew her, she never once mentioned her famous brother. Kindness and humility was a family trait.
When Rose passed away my mom and dad went to the funeral home and there was Stan Musial. Although my father was in his seventies and at a somber occasion, he was like a little kid. And unlike you, my father asked him for his autograph! At the funeral home! My mother was humiliated but after talking with them Mr. Musial thanked them for being good friends with his sister.
My mom and dad have both died but the coverage of Stan Musial’s death and his pure decency in life brought back that great memory.
Here is an article from the Pittsburgh paper you might enjoy.

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/obituaries/obituary-stan-musial-donora-pa-native-won-7-batting-titles-671247/

Don Janousek
January 27, 2013

“No.6″ will long be remembered. If anyone deserved to be called “The Man,” it was Stanisław Franciszek Musiał.

My favorite story about Musial is off the field (his performances on the field speak for themselves.) He was once advised by his good friend, John Wayne, to carry around autographed baseball cards of himself and hand them out when fans asked for autographs.

The “Musial” thing about the story is that Stan himself autographed each card. Before he would go out, he would autograph the cards, put them in his pocket and hand them out to the fans.

Somewhere there are people who have those cards. I do wish I was one of them.

What a difference between the time of Stan the Man and the riff-raff in MLB today.

RIP, No.6,

Jay Random
January 27, 2013

God rest his soul.

I am glad to say that his spirit of sportsmanship and his graciousness to the fans are not quite dead even yet. There are a few athletes here and there who still try to be like him in those respects. Most of the ones I know of are hockey players; of these, Jarome Iginla stands above the rest and probably comes closest to being a modern-day Musial.

Iginla is also, and I don’t think this is any coincidence, one of the few NHL players who are frankly and publicly Christian. I have often heard him give thanks to God for his opportunities and his successes, and oftener still, to his teammates and fans. At the end of Trevor Linden’s distinguished career with the Vancouver Canucks, Iginla (as the captain of the visiting team) led his fellow players in a spontaneous on-ice tribute to Linden at the end of the game. He’s that kind of guy, and works hard to remain that way.

If you asked him, I bet he would name Stan Musial as one of his role models.

John Guernsey
January 27, 2013

I grew up in St. Louis and my dad took me to a lot of Cardinals games. I was at The Man’s final game and I cried when they took him out early. I was too young to understand that they wanted his final at bat to be a hit and thought it grossly unfair that they put in a pinch runner for him.

His final at bat can be enjoyed here: http://youtu.be/T-MkfzSy4p8

I raised my sons right. More than 20 years after The Man retired, my 5 year old son named his cat “Stan.”

Allen Lewis
January 27, 2013

Ditto what you and Katherine (and so many others have said). An example of professionalism at its best! A man who understood why he was famous was because of his fan base.

Toral
January 27, 2013

One of the great thrills of my baseball-fan career was going to watch a game in St. Louis about 1998 or so and seeing Stan playing his harmonica — which he loved to play — impromptu before a knot of fans outside the stadium.

I

Elaine S.
January 27, 2013

I never saw Stan play (his last game was before I was born) and I was raised in a family of diehard Cubs fans. But based on everything that’s been said about Stan in these last few days, it seems to me that if anyone in Major League Baseball achieved bona fide sainthood, Stan did. And he did it simply by doing his job, doing it well, treating everyone with respect, and bringing them joy whenever he could. St. Louis and the “Cardinal Nation” were extremely blessed to have had him.

Bill2
January 27, 2013

There are very few men in sports truly worthy of emulation. Like Stan Musial, I was fortunate enough to have Harmon Killebrew as my childhood sports idol, another truly magnificent human being.

David Fischler
January 27, 2013

I was only five when Stan retired, and so never saw him play. But from an early age I was fascinated with the history of the game. So it was that growing up, and even now, one of my favorite players was from before my time. There are players in the Musial mold today, but one has to look for them (Tim Hudson of the Braves comes to mind), but even then, he was one of a kind. Thanks very much for posting this, Chris.

Ed Speare
January 27, 2013

I only saw Stan Musial live once on a ball field. My Dad had taken me to see the Cardinals play an exhibition game against their minor league affiliate the Billings (Montana) Mustangs, at Cobb Field. He took a pitch or two in his first at bat and proceeded to hit the next pitch not only out of the park, but a block beyond the fence, the longest ball I have ever seen hit in my life. I know the players on that rookie league team were in awe of the big league players, but especially “Stan the Man”. I only wish I had taken advantage of a chance to get his autograph!

Christopher Johnson
January 27, 2013

Elaine, did you know that Stan got his 3,000th hit at Wrigley Field? None of that hold-him-out-until-we-get-home business back then.

Christopher Johnson
January 28, 2013

Ed, you don’t happen to remember what year that was, do you? Because I was born in Billings (1955) and seeing a Mustangs game in person is on my to-do list before I check out of this mortal coil.

harry in St Charles
January 28, 2013

Chris

as much as I do not like Costas,the talk he made about Musial was great.My late wife was at an opening of Central Hardware store when she was a teenager.Stan was there,if you bought a baseball for 89 cents,he would sign it.we still have the baseball.

we will all miss the MAN.

Harry

Michal
January 28, 2013

I lived in St. Louis from about 1948 to 1950…there were still two baseball teams then, I believe…and went to many Cardinals games. Stan Musial was a legend that has stayed with me all my life. Sad to think he’s gone.

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