Stan Musial

Few players in the history of baseball have matched the accomplishments and consistency of Stan Musial. Even fewer so engendered the admiration and affection of fans, not only at home but in every ballpark on the circuit, as did this Polish-American from a steel-mill town in Pennsylvania.

Signed as a pitcher when he was seventeen, Musial was 15-8 in two seasons with Williamson, West Virginia, but the scouting report filed on the young southpaw recommended his release because he was wild and inconsistent. Despite the report, he was sent to Daytona Beach as a pitcher for the 1940 season and, under the tutelage of former White Sox great Dickie Kerr, he compiled an 18-5 record. Kerr, who often had as few as 15 players on his roster, also played Musial in the outfield. Stan responded by batting .352. Late in the season, he made a diving catch in the outfield, crashing on his left shoulder, and the consequent injury finished him as a pitcher. Musial was convinced by Kerr to remain in baseball as an outfielder. The next year he ripped through Class C and the International League before hitting .426 in a September call-up with the Cardinals.

That was the beginning of a love affair with St. Louis that would keep Musial a Cardinal for 22 seasons, a team record. After his playing days he served as general manager, and senior vice president of the Cardinals for more than 25 years.

The lefthanded-hitting Musial had good speed and was famous for his compressed, closed batting crouch, from which he appeared to be peering at the pitcher around a corner. He won his first NL batting title in his second full year and led the NL in hits six times, doubles eight times, triples five times, runs five times, while winning five more batting titles. Preacher Roe claimed to have the best way to pitch Musial: “I throw him four wide ones and then I try to pick him off first base.” Although not initially expected to be a long-ball hitter, Musial developed his power without increasing strikeouts, and averaged 31 home runs per season from 1948 to 1957. Musial once told Roger Kahn that he hit so well because he always knew what the pitch was by seeing the rotation of the ball as it approached the plate. When he retired, Musial owned or shared 29 NL records, 17 ML records, 9 All-Star records, including most home runs (6), and almost every Cardinals career offensive record. In 1956 TSN named Musial its first Player of the Decade.

For one who played so long, Musial was unbelievably consistent. He smacked 1,815 hits at home and the same number on the road. He scored 1,949 runs and drove in 1,951. He batted .310 or better 16 straight seasons and added a .330 season just short of his 42nd birthday. Over 21 full seasons he averaged a remarkable 172 hits, 92 runs scored, 92 RBI, 34 doubles, and 23 home runs per year. His best offensive season was 1948, when he hit a career-high .376 and missed the NL Triple Crown by a single homer. That year he led the NL in batting average, slugging, hits, doubles, triples, runs, and RBI. On May 2, 1954, he set a ML record with five home runs in a doubleheader. And on July 12, 1955 his 12th-inning home run won the All-Star Game for the NL. Brooklyn fans labeled him “Stan the Man” for the havoc he wreaked on Dodger pitching every time he came to Ebbets Field. Musial rarely experienced long slumps; he put together strong starts, solid mid-seasons, and great finishes. He hit .323 or better in every month of the season, with September-October his best stretches. He was also the first man to play more than 1,000 games each at two positions.

Immediately following Musial’s retirement as an active player in 1964, President Johnson named him director of the National Council on Physical Fitness. For a single season, 1967, Musial was St. Louis’s general manager. With Musial’s longtime roommate and close friend Red Schoendienst as field manager, the Cardinals romped to a pennant and beat the Red Sox in the World Series.

On or off the field he wore a smile and meant it. Although he obviously did not always agree with umpires or managers, he did not argue calls or tactical moves. He made time for his family, fans, church, and civic organizations. A bronze statue stands in front of Busch Stadium in St. Louis as a permanent tribute to the greatest Cardinal, Stan the Man. And in 1972 he achieved the unique distinction of becoming the first foreigner to receive the Polish government’s Merited Champions Medal, their highest sports award.