Stanley Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on November 21, 1920. He lived 92 plus years on God’s green earth before he passed away quietly at home surrounded by family and friends on January 19, 2013. He wife of 70 plus years Lillian passed away in May of 2012. He was the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school. He was never a great student but many considered him a friend. He was the sole financial provider for his parents, wife, and children. During the middle of his professional career he left to join the United States Navy at the age of 25. He spent fourteen months in the service and afterwards returned to his career.
He was a hero to his family, friends, fellow servicemen, his teammates, his country, and yes, to his fans. Stan was really ‘The Man’ in every sense of the word. Men today strive to make their parents proud. They strive to find a female companion they can spend their life with. They strive to find a profession to make themselves happy while helping other people. They strive to make a difference in this world. Stan Musial did all this.
Stan was a self described Momma’s boy. His Mother understood him. She convinced his Father to let him skip college and sign a contract to play baseball. It was the only thing a young Stan wanted to do. Not surprising he was good at basketball back then too. Stan was happy to escape the steel mills of Pennsylvania. Not many years later Stan’s father Lukasz died from respiratory issues associated with an explosion in the mine. Stan wished his Dad could have been around to enjoy and share in some of his successes, but he was probably watching down on him.
Stan was drafted as a pitcher. He was a powerful young lefthander who could dominate games when needed. In a 1939 midseason write up on him, Musial was described as a terrible pitcher but a real fine boy. Imagine today someone writing up about a young man’s character. Usually it’s more of a warning sign. Right around this time Stan discovered he could hit. So he worked at it. By 1940 his pitching shoulder started bothering him. In spring 1941 after being promoted to AAA to keep Stan in the organization, it was determined that his future was as a hitter and outfielder. After a 450 foot shot in an intra-squad game, his coaches decided that for him. Stan was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals in the pennant race of 1941 due to injuries. Not by phone call, not by text, but by wire. Lil told Stan the news. Number 6 was chosen for him because it fit him the best. Oh yeah it fit him. From 1941-1963 Stan was a St. Louis Cardinal. He played 22 seasons with them. Remember he missed 14 months to serve his country.
St. Louis was Major League Baseball’s southernmost city when Jackie Robinson integrated baseball during the 1947 season. St. Louis might have been one of the hardest places for black players to come. Musial, not being outspoken, chose to lead by example. He was the most accepting of integration. One great quote about Stan was that he never met a person he couldn’t get along with.
The Cardinals were not that great in the 1950’s but Stan Musial was still doing his best. He played just as hard when his club was losing as when the Cardinals were winning World Championships. Musial played in a then record 895 straight games. Remember there were no great medical treatments back then. His ability to play thru pain should inspire every person today. In the 1958 season, Stan collected his 3000th hit. Fans greeted him at every stop of his train ride home with around 1,000 people being there when he reached St. Louis.
Stan’s #6 jersey was the first to be retired by the St. Louis Cardinals. On September 29, 1963 Stan Musial retired from playing professional baseball. Baseball commissioner Ford Frick delivered a line that would be on Stan’s statue outside Busch Stadium. He said “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior; here stands baseball’s perfect knight.” Wow. One of Stan’s most interesting baseball stats is that he had 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 on the road. 22 years and those hits were even. Think about all the travel and stadiums he played in. To this day, no player ever has more hits in one uniform. Ever. He was just excellent as being a baseball player and even better at being a human being.
It’s been almost 50 years since Stan Musial retired form the game of baseball. He became a living monument for the city of St. Louis and his statue was dedicated in 1968. In 1964, Stan was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be a special consultant to the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness. In 1967 Stan was named General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a behind the scenes type of boss. He helped with player relations. Oh yeah, the Cardinals won the World Series that year. I guess he knew what he was doing at that also. He resigned the job after the season and was named senior vice president of the Cardinals. In 1969, Stan was elected into The National Baseball Hall of Fame. For some reason, 23 of the 340 writers did not cast a vote for Stan. Many think that your peers are a great judge of a man. If that is the case, Stan holds a record I could never see being broken. He was elected to 24 All-Star Games. Stan’s Mother was there in the audience to hear his Hall of Fame induction speech.
Stan battled prostate cancer in the 1980’s. He met and spent time with every President since John F. Kennedy. Finally on February 15, 2011, Stan Musial received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. He was always considered a very generous man, giving things away such as baseballs to anyone who was around to 20 dollar bills to children. I have heard many stories where Stan talked to people he didn’t know for long periods of time. Somehow Stan would get his harmonica out and entertain people more than they ever thought they could be. He made everyone think they were his best friend.
Many amazing things have happened since Stan Musial died. The St. Louis Blues scored 6 goals the night his death was announced. I had just gotten back form working Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up when the news was announced. I wish I could have gone back the next day to share the things Stan taught all of us. The funeral was held this past Saturday. Stan was a devout Catholic. Many dignitaries and 1,300 total were at his funeral mass. A wreath was laid at his statue at Busch Stadium. Over 1,000 people attended that event including many Cardinals employees. He attended Catholic mass whenever he could and even sometimes daily. People want to name bridges after Stan now. They want the Cardinals to honor him in many different ways. My idea would be a red 6 on their sleeves for the season and the 6th home game of the season, every player should wear the #6. I would like to see that tradition continued for either 6 or 22 years.
Stan was a hero. I have heard people ask why so much fuss is being made about a baseball player. Stan Musial was more than a baseball player. He was an American Dream maker. He was a military veteran. He was a man of honor, integrity, faith and love. He was a man’s man. He would make you feel like the most important person in a room. He spent his whole adult life being involved with one sports organization, his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Unbeknownst to him, he created what is now known as ‘The Cardinal Way’. 71 years married to the same woman is still amazing to me.
I was lucky enough to shake Stan’s hand a couple of times, once as a teenager and once at a Cardinals Care event. He is more than just a baseball player. He is a role model. He is a hero to many. People should want to be like Stan. I never saw him play but he touched me, more as a human than as a baseball player.
He was baseball’s perfect knight. He was baseball’s perfect warrior. He is now heaven’s perfect angel.