Stan Musial is everything I love about baseball.

20 Jan
"How good was Stan Musial?" Vin Scully once said, "He was good enough to take your breath away."

“How good was Stan Musial?” legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully once said, “He was good enough to take your breath away.”

I don’t have any personal stories about Stan Musial, I never met him, I never got his autograph, I didn’t shake his hand then not wash my hand for three years (and to the kid that did do that, gross). But, Stan Musial still has a very special place in my heart, mostly based on the stories of others. Sure, his statistics are great–and impeccably balanced (1,815 hits at home, 1,815 on the road; his first game, he got two base hits in a 3-2 Cards win, in his last game Musial got two base hits in a 3-2 Cards win), but it’s the stories about the human being that I love. Bob Gibson once said, “Stan Musial is the nicest man I ever met in baseball. And, to be honest, I can’t relate to that.” And who can? Who can relate to being overwhelmingly the nicest person in anything?

Musial's last game.

Musial’s last game.

Harry Caray, had a story about Musial leaving after a doubleheader, looking like he’d been to hell and back, like he just wanted to go home and lie down. When he exited the stadium there were fans waiting for him. He straightened up, put on a smile, and signed every single autograph.

When I interviewed Matt Kemp at Spring Training he was beat, I saw it in his posture and his eyes when he thought nobody was looking. He stuck around for our interview and was maybe the last guy to leave that day. Despite his kindness and efforts to make our team welcome, when he walked out of the press room you could tell, he just wanted to go home and lie down. When he got out to the parking lot there was a crowd of fans. Our crew happened to walk out unseen by Kemp as he opened his car doors for his friends, straightened up, and greeted his fans with a smile.

That’s the kind of thing that makes a player special to me, and that’s why I (and it would seem everybody else) loved Stan Musial so much.

Kemp signing autographs after a long (and very cold and wet) day at Spring Training.

Kemp signing autographs after a long (and very cold and wet) day at Spring Training.

I remember going to games and walking around the outside of the stadium to the entrance not nearest our car, but the main entrance where a bronze statue of Musial stands in Musial Plaza along Stan Musial Drive. Stan Musial is kinda a big deal in St. Louis.

Musial's statue. The inscription comes from Ford C. Frick's statements at Stan Musial's retirement ceremony: Here stands baseball's perfect warrior... Here stands baseball's perfect knight.Photo: James A Finley, AP

Musial’s statue. The inscription comes from Ford C. Frick’s statements at Stan Musial’s retirement ceremony: Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior… Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.
Photo: James A Finley, AP

Sportscaster Bob Costas said, “He didn’t hit a homer in his last at-bat; he hit a single. He didn’t hit in 56 straight games. He married his high school sweetheart and stayed married to her. All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.”

I've seen this photo cropped and edited over the years, I have no idea who originally shot it, but I'd love to find out.

I’ve seen this photo cropped and edited over the years, I have no idea who originally shot it, but I’d love to find out.

While everyone in STL seems to still be seething over Pujols’ departure, I think even angry Cardinals fans can appreciate that upon arriving in Anaheim when greeted by billboards referring to him as “El Hombre” and “The Man” he demanded that they be taken down because according to Pujols, only one man is “The Man” and that is Stan Musial. The billboards were taken down or covered up immediately.

“What he did for the Cardinal organization is unbelievable,” Pujols said. “There will never be anyone else wearing that Cardinal uniform who will be the face of the franchise. You can talk about his numbers, the 3,630 hits, the 24 All-Star games, the seven batting titles, but the man himself is what made him so great. What he did for his community, for his country. That’s what made him so special.”

At his wife’s funeral less than a year ago Musial said, “I always wanted to live to be 100, but I didn’t want to live to be 100 like this.” The heartwarming stories about Musial are all over this weekend, and maybe I’m morose to hang onto that one so dearly, but I do.

harmonica

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