The release of Jane Leavy’s raw biography of Mickey Mantle reminds us of the personal deficiencies and/or tortured psyches of some of our major baseball heroes of the past (think also of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams). On a happier note, though, let’s also think of Stan Musial.
Stan the Man turned 90 years old on Sunday. The occasion prompted Bernie Maklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch to list “90 things to love about The Man.” Here’s a sampling:
No. 6: Jack Buck said this about Stan: “When you first hear about this guy, you say, ‘it can’t be true.’ When you first meet him you say, ‘It must be an act.’ But as you watch him and watch him and see how he performs and how he comports himself you say, ‘He’s truly one of a kind.’ There will never be another like him.”
No. 7: Three National League MVP awards. He finished second in the voting four times. He finished in the top five of the voting nine times, and was among the top 10 in MVP votes in 14 seasons. Baseball stats guru Bill James calculated that The Man received more MVP votes than any player in MLB history.
No. 13: Musial won over the toughest crowds, even in New York. He had a .356 lifetime batting average at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. In 1946, Brooklyn fans began shouting “Here comes the man,” when Musial walked to the plate. And with a push from Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg, that’s how Musial got his famous nickname.
No. 22: The Man was country before country was cool; he once put on some bib overalls to blow the harmonica on the television show “Hee Haw.” In 1994 Musial recorded 18 songs that were included in a harmonica-playing instruction booklet.
No. 42: (Speaking of music) Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine was once so frustrated by his inability to get The Man out that he wrote a song called “The Stan Musial Blues.” Erskine was asked how to pitch to Musial: “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third,” he said.
Nos. 34-40: Led the NL in doubles a record eight times; led the NL in extra-base hits a record seven times; led the NL in hits six times; led the NL in slugging six times; led the NL in onbase percentage six times; led the NL in total bases six times; led the NL in runs five times.
No 46: (Speaking of stats) From Musial biographer Wayne Stewart: approximately 20,000 men have played major-league baseball. And only four finished among the all-time top 20 in their careers in the Triple Crown stats of homers, RBIs and batting average: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Musial.
No. 49: The Man made only $1.26 million – total! – during his 22-year career. That averages out to about $57,000 per season. The most he ever made in a single season was $100,000 in 1958 and 1959. After batting .255 in 1959, Musial voluntarily took a 20-percent pay cut before the 1960 season. “I’m glad to sign the contract,” he said. “A couple of times in the past the Cardinals had me sign for more than what we agreed upon orally. This year I thought I’d be kind to them.”
No. 65: The way The Man treated Dickie [sic] Kerr, an influential figure and great benefactor in Musial’s life. Kerr was Musial’s manager at Daytona Beach in 1940 and guided and supported the young prospect when Musial hurt the left shoulder and faced a career turning point. Kerr had encouraged Musial to become a full-time outfielder even before the injury and that gave Stan confidence. Moreover, Kerr and his wife had taken Stan and Lil into their home in 1940 as Lil was expecting their first child. In 1958, Musial bought Kerr a home as a measure of gratitude. [Kerr, by the way, was a clean member of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, and won both of his starts in the World Series that year)
No 75: African American pitcher Joe Black told a story of being racially taunted by players in the St. Louis dugout during a Cardinals-Dodgers game. Musial, batting at the time, kicked the dirt as if to convey his disappointment. After the game, Musial sought out the young Joe Black and told him, “I’m sorry that happened. But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.” Black never forgot that.
No. 76: (In the same regard) Willie Mays has praised Musial through the years for extending his friendship to African American players during those tense days. Here’s a story from Mays, who told it to Kansas City Royals broadcaster Denny Matthews: “All-Star Game, late Fifties. There were seven black players on the National League All-Stars. We were in the back of the clubhouse playing poker and none of the white guys had come back or said, ‘Hi,’ or ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘How you guys doing?’ or ‘Welcome to the All-Star Game.’ Nothing. All of a sudden I look up and here comes Stan toward us. He grabs a chair, sits down and starts playing poker with us. And Stan didn’t know how to play poker! But that was his way of welcoming us, of feeling a part of it, making us feel a part of it. I never forgot that. We never forgot that.” (Emphasis added.)
JOHN adds: It’s funny how nicknames sometimes say more than may have been originally intended. As eight-year-old boys we were not tuned into the nuances, but we weren’t stupid, either: it was obvious that anyone who was referred to, without irony, as “Stan the Man” was someone we should pay attention to and try to emulate. With hindsight, we could hardly have done better.
UPDATE: I probably should have mentioned that this month, President Obama announced that he will award Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Of more interest to me is my understanding that Stan the Man is the uncle (or perhaps the cousin) of former soccer star Adam Musial, a defender who was a starter on Poland’s 1974 World Cup squad. That team finished in third place, Poland’s best showing ever. In fact, it was an Adam Musial assist at Wembley Stadium that helped send the Poles to West Germany for the World Cup at the expense of England.
Adam Musial has been rated a member of Poland’s all-time national squad (scroll down to #13 for a picture). Stan would, I imagine, still rate a place on a proper all-time major league baseball squad of 25.