With the bright prospects of pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in just three weeks, Saturday, January 19, was a cold, dark day for Major League Baseball fans.
Early in the morning it was announced that the great Earl Weaver had died.
Roughly 12 hours later, reports arrived indicating that Stan “the Man” Musial passed away in his suburban St. Louis home. He was 92.
A genial, sweet-swinging, unpretentious individual known as “The Man,” Musial was inarguably one of the best pure left-handed hitters in baseball history alongside Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, and Tony Gwynn.
The Western Pennsylvania native had so many incredible accomplishments that listing some of them is the only feasible way to do justice:
- 24 all-star selections (tied for most in history with Willie Mays).
- 3,630 hits, all in the same uniform (4th all time).
- Nearly 2000 RBIs
- 475 homeruns.
- Three MVPs.
- Three World Series titles.
- Seven NL batting crowns (hit over .350 five times).
- Never struck out 50 times in a season.
- Second most total bases in history (6,134).
Musial was indeed the greatest star in a franchise full of stars.
While his Polish immigrant father wanted him to attend college, Musial graduated from high school and signed with the Redbirds for $65 per month. He was brought up to the Majors just months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, hitting .426 in 47 at-bats that September at age 20, then winning many of the above honors with the dominant Cardinal teams of the early 1940s.
Missing the 1945 season for World War II service, he returned from the U.S. Navy early in 1946 and promptly won his second NL batting title eight months later.
Musial, who hit .330 at age 41, was clearly to the Cardinals what Joe DiMaggio was to the Yankees and Ted Williams to the Red Sox.
For most of his career, St. Louis was the farthest outpost in the big leagues, and the Cardinals’ vast radio network broadcast his exploits from Little Rock, Memphis and Dallas to Des Moines, Omaha, Denver, and points west. (Ironically however, the Ebbets Field faithful in Brooklyn christened “The Man” moniker.)
Farmers in the field, families on the porch, and folks in the factory would tune in during those 22 summers. The folksy Musial carried around autographed cards of himself to give away, enjoyed doing magic tricks, and played a harmonica to entertain crowds.
Later, in his lone season as Cards’ general manager, he oversaw the 1967 World Series championship. Musial was inducted into the Hall of Fame two years later in his first year of eligibility with 93 percent of the vote.
The beloved outfielder/first baseman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian — in 2011. He was at Opening Day that spring, preceding the Cardinals’ most recent — and 11th — title run, and he appeared at Busch Stadium for a final visit during the 2012 NLCS.
His wife of more than 70 years, Lillian, died last May.
Even erstwhile Cardinal legend Albert Pujols deferred to Musial. After “El Hombre” became his nickname, Pujols requested that he not be identified as such, saying in 2010, “I don’t want to be called that. There is one man that gets that respect, and that’s Stan Musial.” Pujols told media Sunday he was “blessed to spend time” with the legend 60 years his senior.
With Pujols’ December 2011 departure, it’s assured that “The Man” will remain the greatest Cardinal of them all.
Stan “The Man’s” accomplishments remain undiminished by time — with fans throughout the Midwest and beyond.