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Stan Musial died last Saturday, Jan. 19, at the age of 92. A legend has been taken from us.
I’m just old enough to have come in on the tail end of his great playing career, and although I never saw him in his prime, I can say without reservation that he gets my vote for the best to have ever played the game of baseball. His inspiration affected more young men (and women) of that era than anyone else in professional sports.
“Stan the Man” was an all-around player. He could hit, he could field, he could run; yet one of his most remarkable statistics is that in his 3,026 major league appearances, he was never ejected from a game. That speaks of the quality of the man. Broadcaster Bob Costas is quoted to have said, “All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.”
If only that could be said of more professional athletes that young people try to mimic.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said, “We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family.” That’s what he was. Family. Unlike the so-called superstars of today whose loyalty goes only as far as the next contract, Stan the Man was a Cardinal for a lifetime.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said, “Stan Musial was a great American hero who…inspired all of us to aim high and dream big. The world is emptier today without him, but far better to have known him.”
Musial was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, the first year he was eligible. In 1989 he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. He was one of 30 players named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team and in 2000 he was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians, and a bronze bust depicting him is on permanent display in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol. In 2011 Musial was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.
In 1968 a statue of Musial was erected outside the Busch Memorial Stadium, and the statue was moved to the new Busch Stadium for its first season in 2006. The statue is inscribed with a quote attributed to former baseball commissioner Ford Frick: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
Leo Durocher was one time quoted: “There’s only one way to pitch to Musial – under the plate.”
Brooklyn pitcher Preacher Roe, who retired to West Plains where he now has a street named for him, is said to have once announced a new method for retiring Musial: “Walk him on four pitches and pick him off first.”
Musial won the National League batting title in 1943, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1957. He was National League’s most valuable player in 1943, 1946 and 1948; and Major League player of the year in 1946 and 1951. He was a 24-time All-Star selection, and in 1957 was presented the Major League Lou Gehrig Memorial Award.
My earliest memories of following the sport of baseball go back to listening to the Cardinals on the old Zenith radio, just hoping the signal would not fade out until after Musial made his plate appearance. Those radio announcers had a way of keeping us on the edge of the chair as they announced the “high fly ball” that is “going, going, gone.” And if you never heard Harry Caray’s “Holy cow!”, well, you’ve missed a part of baseball that will never return…just like legends of the game like “Stan the Man.”