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Joe Posnanski: Musial

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  • Joe Posnanski: Musial

    Just...Musial

    Stan Musial never got thrown out of a game. Never. Think about this for a moment. Musial played in 3,026 games in his career, or about as many as his contemporaries Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky played combined. He played across different American eras — he played in the big leagues before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, and he retired a few weeks before Kennedy was shot. He played when Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller ruled the Top 40 charts, and he played when Elvis was thin, and he played when Chubby Checker twisted. He played before television, and after John Glenn orbited the earth. And he never once got thrown out of a baseball game.

    There was this game, in ‘52, that year the Today Show came to television and the Diary of Anne Frank was published, and the Musial’s Cardinals trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by two runs in the ninth. The bases were loaded. There were two outs. Musial faced pitcher Ben Wade. The two battled briefly, and then Musial connected — a long home run to right field. Grand slam. Everyone in the stadium stood and cheered wildly — what could be bigger, a grand slam in the ninth to beat the hated Dodgers — and Musial started to run around the bases in his own inimitable way, not too fast, not too slow, all class. And it wasn’t until he rounded first and was closing in on second when everyone seemed to notice at once that the third base umpire was holding up his arms. A ball had rolled on the field just before the pitch. The umpire had called timeout.

    Home plate umpire Tom Gorman realized he had no choice. He disallowed the home run. The stadium went black. The fans went mad. St. Louis manager Solly Hemus raced out the dugout, got into Gorman’s face and called him every name he could think of — finally Gorman had no choice and threw him out of the game. Peanuts Lowrey came in like a tag-team wrestler and picked up where Solly left off — Gorman tossed him too. Before it was done, Gorman threw out six Cardinals. He felt like a cowboy in one of those old Westerns clearing out the saloon, throwing out people through plate glass windows.

    And then Musial, who in the confusion had not been told anything, walked over to Gorman. He calmly asked, “What happened Tom? It didn’t count, huh?” Gorman nodded sadly and said the third base umpire had called timeout.

    “Well, Tom,” Musial said, “there’s nothing you can do about it.”

    Stan Musial stepped back in the box while fists shook and boos and threats echoed around him. He promptly tripled off the top of the center field wall to score three runs and give the Cardinals the victory anyway.

    “Stan,” Tom Gorman said after the game ended, “is in a class by himself.”

    * * *

    Stan Musial grew up in Donora, Pa., during the Depression. They were a family of eight in a five-room house. In Donora, the smoke and fumes from the zinc factory mushroomed so thick and poisonous that no vegetation could grow on the hill. That barren, brown hillside was a constant reminder that the air was killing them. Stan’s father, a Polish immigrant, worked in that factory and, not too many years after Stan started playing ball, died from the fumes.

    Not that a tough childhood explains everything. Still, there was something about Stan Musial that did not let him forget Donora, did not allow him to change — “I’m so lucky,” he used to say every day, more than once every day, so many times that people would roll their eyes. But that seems to be how he felt, every day, lucky.

    Harry Caray, who of course first gained his fame calling Cardinals games on KMOX, would tell the story of a beaten down Musial going hitless in a Sunday doubleheader. The heat was unbearable that day — hell could not be much hotter than a St. Louis summer day — and after the game Musial walked gingerly to his car. He looked beaten down. He looked beat up. Musial never seemed to think of baseball as a job, but a daytime doubleheader in St. Louis might be the closest thing.

    “Watch this,” Caray said to a friend as they watched the scene, and sure enough when Musial got to the car, there were a hundred kids waiting for him an an autograph. Stan leaned against his hot car and signed every one.

    Musial. People like to say that people have changed. I don’t see that exactly. The world has changed. Technology has changed. Movie and ticket prices have changed. Gas prices have changed,. Many of the rules have changed — the reserve clause is gone, Title IX is in place, they let people swear on cable TV, airplanes and restaurants won’t let you smoke and you can no longer hold your infant in your lap in the front seat of your car. But people? I don’t know. I get a little queasy when I hear old time ballplayers talk about how none of them would have used performance enhancing drugs, and a little queasier when I hear old-time politicians talk about how they always reached across the aisle. You will still hear a lot of people romanticizing America in the 1950s. Those people tend to look a lot alike.

    Still, it’s probably fair to say that there was something unique about the time that produced Stan Musial. Maybe in those days people treasured what that thing they used to call class. Maybe they expected their singers to be dressed in tuxedoes, maybe they admired strong and silent types, maybe they liked football players who did not celebrate their own touchdowns or boxers who spoke quietly, maybe they wanted their children to believe in a world where baseball players drank milk and said “golly” and married their high school sweetheart. It seems to me that the quintessential hero today is Josh Hamilton, left-handed power, supremely gifted, fallen from grace, back from the depths, crushing home runs and driving in runners while covered in tattoos that represent a time he regrets. That’s a story for our time, a story about a lost soul redeemed, and it touches our 21st Century hearts.

    Musial is from his time. He smoked under stairwells to be certain that no kid saw him doing it. Friends say he drank privately, and very little, Stan the Man could not allow anyone to see him at less than his best. He often said his biggest regret was that he did not go to college. And, yes, he married Lil, his high school sweetheart, on his 19th birthday, almost 70 years ago.

    He wanted to be a role model. He seemed to need to feel like he was giving kids someone to respect. That, as much as anything, drove him. Teammates had a standing wager on how many times he would use the word “Wonderful” in any given day. They usually guessed low. He was terrified of making speeches (this, friends say, is why he started playing the harmonica in public) and yet he almost never turned down a speaking engagement. He played in great pain, but nobody ever caught him running half-speed. When he felt like his skills had diminished, he asked for and received a pay cut.

    Joe Black used to tell a story — he was pitching against the Cardinals, and as usual the taunts were racial. “Don’t worry Stan,” someone in the Cardinals dugout shouted, “with that dark background on the mound you shouldn’t have any problem hitting the ball. Musial kicked at the dirt, spat, and faced Black like he had not heard anything. But after the game, Black was in the clubhouse, and suddenly he looked up and there was Stan Musial. “I’m sorry that happened,” Musial whispered. “But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.”

    Chuck Connors, the Rifleman, used to tell a story — he was a struggling hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 1951. He asked teammates what he should do. They all told him the same thing: The only guy who can save you is Musial. So Connors went to Musial and asked for his help. Musial spent 30 minutes at the cage with an opposing player. “I was a bum of a hitter just not cut out for the majors,” Connors said. “But I will never forget Stan’s kindness. When he was finished watching me cut away at the ball, Stan slapped me on the back and told me to keep swinging.”

    Ed Mickelson only got 37 at-bats in the Big Leagues, but he has a story too. Musial invited him to dinner — he was always doing that stuff — and there Mickelson explained that he felt so nervous playing ball, that he could hardly perform. Musial leaned over and said quietly, “Me too, kid. Me too. When you stop feeling nervous, it’s time to quit.”

    Well, there are countless stories like that, stories about Musial’s common decency and the way he could make anyone around him feel like he was worth a million bucks.

    “Musial treated me like I was the Pope,” Mickelson said, and he was still in awe more than 50 years later.

    * * *

    Those were the emotions Musial inspired in his time. He was so beloved in New York, that the Mets held a “Stan Musial Day.” In Chicago, he once finished first in a “favorite player” poll among Cubs fans, edging out Ernie Banks. Bill Clinton and Brooks Robinson, growing up about an hour apart in Arkansas, were inspired by him.

    Of course, it was mostly the playing. Stan Musial banged out 3,630 hits even though he missed a year for the war. He hit .331 for his career, banged 1,377 extra base hits (only Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have hit more), stretched out more than 900 doubles and triples (only Tris Speaker has more) and played in 24 All-Star Games. He had that quirky and unforgettable swing, that peek-a-boo stance, and he probably inspired more famous quotes by pitchers than any other hitter.

    Preacher Roe (on how to pitch Musial): “I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off first base.”

    Carl Erskine (on how to pitch Musial): “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him best pitch and
    backing up third.”

    Warren Spahn: “Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy.”

    Don Newcombe: “I could have rolled the ball up there to Musial, and he would have pulled out a golf club and hit it out.”

    And so on. Maybe pitchers felt in awe because there seemed no way to pitch him, no weaknesses in swing, fastballs up, curveballs away, forkballs in the dirt, he hit them all. In 1947, he had his most famous season, his season for the ages, .376 average, 46 doubles, 18 triples, 39 home runs, 135 runs, 131 RBIs. And yet, the thing about Musial, is that for more than 20 years he was pretty much always like that. Four other times he hit better than .350. Four other times he hit more than 46 doubles. He hit double digit triples eight times in all, he hit 30-plus homers five times, he walked more than twice as often as he struck out.

    I suspect Musial can never be reflected in numbers because his resume is so all encompassing — it’s like Bob Costas said, he never hit in 56 straight games, and he did not hit 500 home runs (never hit 40 in a season), and he did not get 4,000 hits, and he did not hit .400 in any year. He was, instead, present, always, seventeen times in the Top 5 in batting average, sixteen times in the Top 5 in on-base percentage, thirteen times in the Top 5 in slugging percentage, nine times the league leader in runs created. To me, the best description of Musial through his stats is to say that 16 times in his career Musial hit 30 or more doubles. It might not make for a great movie. But all his baseball life Stan Musial hit baseballs into gaps and he ran hard out of the box.

    * * *

    Here’s the thing: A lot of baseball fans have forgotten Stan Musial. Anyway, it seems like that. His name is rarely mentioned when people talk about the greatest living players. He’s never had a best selling book written about him. A few years ago, when baseball was picking its All Century team, Stan Musial did not even received enough votes to be listed among the Top 10 outfielders. The Top 10.

    True, he did not play in New York like the baseball icons, like Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle and Koufax and Mays. True, he did not break the home run record like Aaron, he did not get banished from the game like Rose, he did not break barriers like Jackie, he did not swear colorfully like Ted, he did not hit three homers in a World Series game like Reggie, he did not glare like Gibson, he did not throw like Clemente and he did not say funny things like Yogi.

    No, Musial just played hard and lived decently. He hit five home runs in a doubleheader, and had five hits on five swings in a game. He hit line drives right back at pitchers and then would go to the dugout after the game to make sure those pitchers were all right. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but he didn’t see the harm in letting people believe in something.

    And maybe that sort of understated greatness isn’t meant to be shouted from the rooftops. Maybe Musial is just meant to be quietly appreciated. Every so often, even now, you can read an obituary somewhere in American’s heartland, and you will read about someone who “loved Stan Musial.” Everyone so often you will meet someone about 55 years old name Stan, and you will know why.

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    I hope there are some big plans to honor him during the All-Star game festivities next year...
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    • #3
      Originally posted by StlCardz1982 View Post
      I hope there are some big plans to honor him during the All-Star game festivities next year...
      I can't imagine that there wouldn't be. That would be a travesty.
      Of course you do.

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      • #4
        I sure wish someone would FINALLY write a book about the man. I know he doesn't want it, but it's WAY past due.
        *Syria becomes the 7th predominantly Muslim country bombed by 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama—after Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Iraq

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        • #5
          Originally posted by dhaab View Post
          I sure wish someone would FINALLY write a book about the man. I know he doesn't want it, but it's WAY past due.
          Have you read Bob Broeg's book on him? It's a good read...

          "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
          Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
          -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

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          • #6
            Many prayers, good thoughts, white lights, or whatever you choose to bring about good health for Stan is needed to see him have his national spotlight next July.
            Make America Great For Once.

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            • #7
              In a Pennsylvania town in 1921
              To a Miller and his wife
              one day was born a son

              Stanley F Musial
              Swingin Stan The Man
              He's the man that thrills the fans
              Swingin Stan the Man

              wish I could find that song online.
              Sometimes elections have positive consequences!

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              • #8
                I've always believed that Musial was/is the most underappreciated and anonymous HOFer to ever play the game. Nothing within this article alters that belief.
                "Let me lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. The only way to destroy them is to expose them. If man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance.- Stan Lee (circa 1968)

                "Compete less with the person in front of you than the person inside of you." - Anonymous

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by cardinalgirl View Post
                  In a Pennsylvania town in 1921
                  To a Miller and his wife
                  one day was born a son

                  Stanley F Musial
                  Swingin Stan The Man
                  He's the man that thrills the fans
                  Swingin Stan the Man

                  wish I could find that song online.

                  Donora. You know, its sad, there is not anything up there that even says that he's from there...at least there wasnt yet...
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                  • #10
                    Here stands baseball's perfect warrior
                    Here stands baseball's perfect knight

                    Isn't that the perfect inscription?

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                    • #11
                      In the first edition of the Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James asks the question (pre-Barry) of who the best left-fielder in baseball history was. The numbers say it was Ted Williams. James however makes the point that Stanley Frank Musial didn't just win 3 MVP awards. He also finished 2nd 4 times, and was in the top 10 12 times in his career. No player in baseball has received more MVP vote shares than Stan Musial, which means that, by the reckoning of people who played with and against him and watched him during his time, that Stan Musial was the most respected baseball player of all time.

                      When the time comes for Stan to get called up, I'm going to feel like I lost a member of my family, or damn near.
                      I like cheese.

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                      • #12
                        I just wish that I could have seen him when he played the game. IMO, he deserves all the honors he can get, as the majority of his career numbers came after the 1947 season. I mean he hit over .300 from 1942 through 1958.
                        Make America Great For Once.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by cardinalgirl View Post
                          In a Pennsylvania town in 1921
                          To a Miller and his wife
                          one day was born a son

                          Stanley F Musial
                          Swingin Stan The Man
                          He's the man that thrills the fans
                          Swingin Stan the Man

                          wish I could find that song online.


                          I bought that 45 in a Woolworths right down the street from Busch 1 when I was 10 or11. I've searched long and hard to find a copy with no luck.
                          I agree with Davhaf.....Kaiser March 9,2004

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                          Mick Jagger is in better shape than far too many NBA players. It's up in the air whether the same can be said of Keith Richards.

                          Bill Walton

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by davhaf View Post
                            I bought that 45 in a Woolworths right down the street from Busch 1 when I was 10 or11. I've searched long and hard to find a copy with no luck.
                            hey old man! ...hope you find it someday...if not, at least you have the recollection of it.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by easy ed View Post
                              hey old man! ...hope you find it someday...if not, at least you have the recollection of it.


                              I got your old man hanging....
                              I agree with Davhaf.....Kaiser March 9,2004

                              Official Lounge co-sponsor of Jason Motte.

                              Mick Jagger is in better shape than far too many NBA players. It's up in the air whether the same can be said of Keith Richards.

                              Bill Walton

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