Baseball lost one of it's finest yesterday, one of the game's greatest ambassadors, a living legend and the truest of gentlemen. Stan Musial.
And America lost another cherished member of our Greatest Generation.
Stan Musial had a wonderfully full life. He lived to be 92 years old. He played his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals and he was an integral part of the organization until he drew his last breath. He was married to his beloved Lil for 71 years. They had 4 children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
I'm not old enough to remember Stan as a player. When I began to really follow baseball, he was already a long-time Hall of Famer. But even as a player of yesteryear, I knew how special Stan Musial was. He was always mentioned in the same breath as the other greats of his era. Aaron, Mantle, DiMaggio, Banks, Mays and Williams.
I've oft said that no one should ever be placed on a pedestal. Whether it's an athlete, entertainer or world leader, everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes. It's all part of being, well, human. It's fine to admire someone for an aspect of their life, but never should they be considered perfect or infallible. By doing that, we set ourselves up for disappointment. All that said, Stan Musial, by all accounts, seems pedestal worthy.
Stan Musial was a humble and unassuming man. He was a consummate professional who played the game right. He took "a break" from baseball at the top of his game to serve his country in World War II. He supported the integration of baseball and Bob Gibson spoke many times of how Stan helped establish a warm chemistry between black and white players in the Cardinals clubhouse. And he loved to play the harmonica.
Stan retired from baseball in 1963. At the time, he held or shared 17 major league records, 29 National League records, and nine All-Star Game records. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 (his first year of eligibility) on 93.2 percent of the ballots. He never left St. Louis, becoming a business leader in the community. From 1964 to 1967 he was the Johnson administration's physical fitness advisor. He served as a Vice President in the Cardinals front office from 1963 to 1966 and then as the team's General Manager in 1967. That year the Cardinals won the World Series.
How beloved is Stan Musial in St. Louis? There is not just one, but two statues of him at Busch Stadium. In his retirement, he rarely missed an Opening Day or any Cardinals celebration. He was cherished and revered by all the Cardinals players who followed him. In response to a massive campaign by Cardinals Nation in 2011, Stan Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor an American civilian can receive.
Stan Musial is the most beloved St. Louis Cardinal in the team's illustrious history. One of his statues at Busch Stadium holds the following inscription:
"Here stands baseball's perfect warrior.
Here stands baseball's perfect knight."
Today, we like to think that we are watching the greatest players that baseball has ever produced. They don't hold a candle to Stan The Man. Their accomplishments pale in comparison.
- Stan Musial played 22 seasons with a lifetime .331 batting average, a .417 on-base percentage and a .559 slugging percentage.
- Stan Musial was the National League MVP in 1943, 1946 and 1948. He came in second on the ballot four times.
- Stan Musial won the National League batting title in 1943, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1957.
- Stan Musial played in four World Series, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1946. His team won three of the four.
- Stan Musial played in 24 All-Star Games.
- Stan Musial missed the entire 1945 season as he served in our nation's Navy during World War II. When he returned in 1946, he won the National League's MVP award. He also won the National League's batting title and the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series. Think about it, he achieved three of baseball's biggest accomplishments while not playing the entire previous season.
- Stan Musial never struck out 50 times in a season.
- Stan Musial led the National League in almost every hitting category for at least one year, except home runs.
- In 1948, Stan Musial had four five-hit games. He batted .376 for the season and led the league in hits, total bases, doubles and triples. He hit a career-high 39 home runs, falling one short of winning the Triple Crown.
- In his final at-bat, Stan Musial hit an RBI single past Cincinnati's rookie second baseman, Pete Rose. 18 years later, Rose would break Musial's 3,630 hit record.
- Stan Musial played in 3,026 games. He made 12,717 plate appearances, hit 475 home runs, had 1,951 RBIs and 78 stolen bases.
- Stan Musial had exactly 1,815 hits at home and exactly 1,815 hits on the road.
- Stan Musial was a first ballot Hall of Famer, ranking 19th all-time in most votes received. At the time of his induction, only five players had received more votes. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Bob Feller and Ted Williams.
I found some beautiful tributes to Stan today. Some I'd like to share.
"I never heard anybody say a bad word about him — ever."
- Willie Mays
"It is such a sad day, but I am so blessed to have spent time with him the last 12 years. He blessed my life, and many, many lives in baseball during his career, and after his career. He touched so many lives. He means as much as Roberto Clemente does to Latin people. Thank God I had the opportunity to know him. I wish my kids had the opportunity to be around him, because that's how I want my kids to live their lives. I want them to be like Stan Musial. Not the baseball player. The person. That's the respect I have for that man. I will cherish my friendship with Stan for as long as I live."
- Albert Pujols
"I knew Stan very well. He used to take care of me at All-Star Games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could."
- Willie Mays
"We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family."
- William DeWitt Jr. Cardinals owner.
"Major League Baseball has lost one of its true legends in Stan Musial, a Hall of Famer in every sense and a man who led a great American life. He was the heart and soul of the historic St. Louis Cardinals franchise for generations. As remarkable as 'Stan the Man' was on the field, he was a true gentleman in life. All of Major League Baseball mourns his passing."
- Commissioner Bud Selig
"St. Louis has been lucky to have a player like Stan Musial. He will always be Mr. Baseball. It's a very big loss. You can go around the world and you'll never find a better human being than Stan Musial."
- Whitey Herzog, Cardinals Hall of Fame Manager
"Stan was a favorite in Cooperstown, from his harmonica rendition of `Take Me Out to the Ball Game' during Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, to the reverence he commanded among other Hall of Fame members and all fans of the game. More than just a baseball hero, Stan was an American icon and we will very much miss him in Cooperstown."
- Jane Forbes Clark, Hall of Fame Chairman
"Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game. The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him."
- Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame President
I had every intention of writing about Earl Weaver today. With all due respect to the Oriole's skipper, when I read of Stan Musial's passing, I was compelled to write about him first. Two legends, two Hall of Famers, two baseball icons lost on the same day. I will pay tribute to Mr. Weaver soon. He deserves nothing less.
(for some odd reason, I'm unable to upload my photos of Stan Musial. I'll post an update later)