St. Louis got lucky in 1940; Stan Musial got hurt.
Prior to injuring his shoulder in the outfield, he had been a pitching prospect for the Cardinals, and, while it sure seems likely his hitting prowess would have emerged, there’s always the chance Stan “The Man” might have turned into just another pitcher and not the most gifted left-handed hitter the National League has ever seen.
With his death at 92, we don’t mourn Stan Musial. We celebrate him as a man who did it right, a man who made his mark in a new city and then showed the fans how much he really loved them by staying put and making St. Louis his home. Has there ever been an athlete who put more back into the community he played in than Stan Musial?
Like I say, St. Louis got lucky.
In his playing career, Stan Musial killed National League pitchers. With a stance described like a coiled snake or a kid peering around a corner, he hit like a man who knew what pitch was coming. You can look all this up: his total hit count stood as the National League record for decades and he led the Cardinals to pennants and the World Series. He played a game that came easy to him with a style that befit the city: no flash, no boasting, but with a precision that left teammates and opponents in awe.
“Stan was such a nice guy that I was probably happy for him when he homered off me,” Johnny Antonelli, a leading left-handed pitcher of the 1950s, told Danny Peary in the oral history “We Played the Game.”
The Dodgers’ Don Newcombe: “The man went about his job and did it damn well and never had the need to sit in the dugout and call a black guy a bunch of names, because he was trying to change the game and make it what it should have been in the first place, a game for all people.”
The Dodger’s Carl Erskine: ”I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third.”
More amazing facts: He was married for 72 years, he was never thrown out of a game and when he hit .255 in 1959, he asked the team for a pay cut. Yes, modern sports fans, he asked for a pay cut.
When he retired, he became the team’s general manager for the 1967 season when they won the pennant and the World Series. Think about that for a moment. The team’s best player took control of the team in retirement and led them to the top again. Of course, it was managed by his best friend in baseball, Red Schoendienst, and Stan had the baseball intelligence not to meddle with a winning formula.
Still, a guy with a bigger ego could have tried to reformulate the team and blown it up. Lucky again.
After reaching the pinnacle of the sport, he stepped down to run his restaurant on Oakland Avenue and to stay in the community he loved, raising money for charity and counseling baseball players every spring. And St. Louis adored him for it.
“In his business life, in his family life, he was the perfect man for his adopted home of St. Louis, in that when he ran the restaurant, he not only was a good restaurant man — he knew the steaks and he knew the menu — but he was there for people,” author George Vecsey, who wrote the biography Stan Musial: An American Life, said in an ESPN interview. “He was also that way with fans. He’d sign autographs until the last person has gone home. Perfect guy for St. Louis, for mid-America, and really for the country.”
He was a St. Louis institution who never acted like one. When there was a Cardinal event, he was there and he often pulled out a harmonica to play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” In his final years, the community rallied around him again, using an online campaign in 2010 to get him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor our country can bestow.
If there’s a lesson for the athletes of the sporting world in Stan Musial’s life, it’s this: Everyone has the right to be paid fairly for what they do, but, in the end, the money doesn’t really matter. It’s who you are and who you touched.
In St. Louis, Stan Musial touched them all.