“Here stands baseball’s greatest knight. Here stands baseball’s greatest warrior.” – Ford Frick.
As you probably already know, Cardinals legend Stan “the Man” Musial died yesterday evening at the age of 92. He was the greatest Cardinal of all. Stan’s stats are incredible – he was a 24 time All Star, a 3 time World Series champion, a 3 time National League MVP, a 7 time National League batting champion, with a career .331 batting average, 3,630 hits (split evenly between home and road games), 475 home runs, and 1,951 RBIs. He accomplished all these stats without using steroids or performance enhancing drugs. He played for the Cardinals for an incredible 21 seasons, from 1946 to 1963, with a year off in 1945 to serve in the U.S. Navy. Playing for 21 seasons is an incredible feat and playing for the same team for 21 seasons is even more incredible, unlike some players today whose loyalty is to their wallet instead of to a team.
Stan the regular man was even better than Stan the Man baseball player. He was a family man who raised five kids and was married to his wife Lil for almost 72 years. That’s an incredible stat in itself, especially these days where people get divorced at the drop of a hat. Stan was so worried about the example he set for kids that he stopped smoking. He went out of his way to encourage African-American players when they first joined the major leagues.
Stan was a classy guy and loved the fans. No matter how tired he was or no matter where he was, he was happy to give autographs. He was the unofficial ambassador for the City of St. Louis. Even though he was retired, Stan still loved baseball, attended Opening Day ceremonies and he often attended playoff games. Baseball players today would do well to emulate how Stan treated fans, for without fans, what would baseball (or any sport) be like? And we fans loved Stan – we lobbied with Flat Stans so that Stan could receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Cardinal Nation has lost one of its elder statesmen and we mourn and celebrate Stan’s life together. How appropriate it is then that Stan died during the weekend of Winter Warmup, the annual love fest between the Cardinals and their fans. Around Stan’s statue at Busch Stadium upon which the quote referenced above from Ford Frick is engraved, fans have dropped off flowers and other tokens of remembrance. They gather and share their memories of Stan and pay their respects, just like when Jack Buck and Darryl Kile died. Fans on Twitter have changed their avatars to Stan to honor him.
I never met Stan personally, but I got to see him up close once. My husband and I attended the opening ceremonies for Busch Stadium III in 2006, which were held at the gate behind Stan’s statue. We stood and listened to all the local dignitaries speak about the opening of the new stadium. Then Stan was introduced to thunderous applause. He needed help to get up to the microphone, but once he did, he enthralled the crowd with jokes and then he pulled out his harmonica and played it. It made me sad to see how frail Stan was, a baseball great ravaged by the sands of time and age.
What a legacy Stan leaves us – he was a class act as a baseball player and as a man. The world could use more people like Stan Musial, who gave 110% on and off the field. Sadly, however, society today is filled with many self-centered people who feel they are entitled to whatever they can get, whether they have earned it or not. We would do well to emulate Stan’s work ethic and to treat people with kindness and respect like he did.
If you would like to read more about Stan and his life and career, I recommend the book An American Life: Stan Musial by George Vecsey. You can purchase it here.
Finally, here’s a song about Stan. Thanks for reading. See you next time!
Bibliography for the stats above: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Musial