I can’t believe it: the man seemed immortal. The Donora Greyhound died yesterday at age 92, and there’s no doubt that he was my favorite baseball player of all time. I suppose part of it is that he played for the St. Louis Cardinals, my favorite team (I was born in St. Louis), but he was also a fantastic player and an uncharacteristically modest one.
I saw him play only once—at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh when he was in the waning years of his career. But my dad, a baseball fan who was stationed in St. Louis as an Army officer, saw Musial play frequently, and was also a great admirer. He told me that he never saw Musial question an umpire’s call, and that Musial was so fast that he regularly scored from first base on a subsequent hitter’s single.
Musial is still, as far as I know, the only player to have ever hit five home runs in one day (a doubleheader).
Retired, he opened a steakhouse and, despite having been one of the greatest players of all time, eschewed interviews and publicity. Only Sandy Koufax was more elusive.
From ABC News:
“I never heard anybody say a bad word about him — ever,” Willie Mays said in a statement released by the Hall of Fame. . .
“Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game,” Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. “The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him.”
And how often do modern players do this?
At the suggestion of a pal, actor John Wayne, Musial carried around autographed cards of himself to give away. He enjoyed doing magic tricks for kids and was fond of pulling out a harmonica to entertain crowds with a favorite, “The Wabash Cannonball.”
His records (lifetime batting average .331, fielding percentage: .984):
In all, Musial held 55 records when he retired in 1963. Fittingly, the accolades on his bronze Hall plaque start off with this fact, rather than flowery prose: “Holds many National League records …”
He played nearly until his 43rd birthday, adding to his totals. He got a hit with his final swing, sending an RBI single past Cincinnati’s rookie second baseman — that was Pete Rose, who would break Musial’s league hit record of 3,630 some 18 years later.
Of those hits, Musial got exactly 1,815 at home and exactly 1,815 on the road. He also finished with 1,951 RBIs and scored 1,949 runs.
I could go on and on. When I was in Little League, I tried to imitate his stance at the plate, which was unique. He stood with his feet close together, instead of spread wide, and wiggled his rump as the ball approached. Then he’d uncoil—and CRACK! That stance never kept him from getting hits, but perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for me!
I know a sports reporter or two, and tried, in the last ten years, to interest them in getting an interview with Musial (who probably would have refused). They weren’t interested, probably because he was largely forgotten, but also quiet and not a publicity hound. But those were the qualities that made him special.
And that stance!