"How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away." — Vin Scully
As the best player in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals and one of baseball's all-time greats, Stan Musial compiled statistics bordering on the surreal.
The list begins with 3,630 hits combined with power (475 home runs) and fewer-than-normal strikeouts (696 in 12,721 plate appearances). Add unmatched consistency, as the left-handed hitting Musial racked up 1,815 hits both at home and on the road, adding 1,951 RBI and 1,949 runs scored overall. His career batting average was .331 over his 22-year career, all with the Cardinals.
A seven-time National League batting champion, Musial hit over .350 five times, peaking at .376 in 1948. Six 200-hit seasons, six campaigns of 30 or more home runs and nine 100-plus RBI seasons don't tell the whole story about Stan the Man's offensive prowess.
Musial was a doubles machine, as he led the NL in that category eight times. He totaled 50 or more two-baggers three times and was in the 40s six other seasons. Stan's 725 career doubles rank third behind Tris Speaker and Pete Rose.
How about a power hitter who was exceptionally proficient when it came to triples? Although he wasn't a base stealer, Musial had enough speed to leg out 177 career three-baggers. Only fellow Hall of Famer Paul Waner had a higher total (191) in the live ball era. Musial was in double figures for triples in seven consecutive seasons. "Stash" led the National League in triples five times.
Even Musial's secondary numbers are impressive. He played in a then-NL record 895 consecutive games. When asked why he didn't take an occasional day off, Musial replied that he didn't want to disappoint fans who paid their hard-earned money to see him play.
Brought up late in the 1941 season because starting outfielders Enos Slaughter and Terry Moore were hurt, the 20-year-old Musial was thrust into an intense pennant race against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The raw rookie responded by hitting .426 (20 for 47) in a dozen games, so he bears no blame for the Cardinals' second-place finish. Considering the circumstances, it may have been the best September call-up in baseball history.
Can a middle-aged player produce in a big way? Musial hit .330 (third in the NL) with 19 HR and 82 RBI at age 41 in 1962, which has to rank as the top season by a 40-year-old-plus position player (Carlton Fisk fans may disagree). Manager Johnny Keane gave his old slugger periodic days off, but Stan was definitely "the man" in late innings, as he was an off-the-charts 14 for 19 (.737) as a pinch-hitter.
How does a player get named to an opposing team's Hall of Fame? Musial was enshrined to the Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball HOF in 1990. Brooklyn is where No. 6 was first known as "The Man" as he hit .359 lifetime at Ebbets Field while earning the deep respect of diehard Dodgers fans.
In this case, the statistics—impressive as they are—don’t tell the whole Musial story. Long known for his friendly and unpretentious personality, Musial treated the common man and fellow celebrities alike with genuine kindness. "Musial stories" by the dozens circulate in and beyond Cardinals Nation. These true-life tales have a common theme: The baseball great was a regular Joe who cheerfully signed autographs, and was quick with an encouraging word along with quietly performing acts of generosity. A few examples:
Don Ostapowicz and his family lived next door to the Musials in Donora, Pa., until the Great Depression of the 1930s forced them to move out of state for employment. The senior Ostapowicz died in 1974. Shortly after, Don received a handwritten condolence note from Musial. How many people would show such sympathy to an old neighbor from the distant past?
"I need to stop at a bank," Musial said to son-in-law Tom Ashley while heading to a reunion of old Cardinals players in the 1980s. Stan the Man emerged from the bank with what Ashley estimated as $10,000 in cash. As he often did in social settings, No. 6 provided tunes with his ever-present harmonica (Stan Musical?) and conversed with the famous and obscure. Former players in need left the reunion with much-appreciated cash gifts from their thoughtful old teammate.
Speaking of money, Musial was earning $13,500 in 1946 when the short-lived Mexican League attempted to sign underpaid American players. Wealthy Jorge Pasquel was attempting to build a baseball circuit in his native land, and Musial was at the top of Pasquel's wish list. The Cardinals star was offered a $125,000, five-year contract along with a $50,000 signing bonus, or $35,000 a year. This was a serious bid, as Pasquel (depending on the source) showed Musial five $10,000 cashier's checks or a briefcase full of cash. If Musial signed, he had far more money in hand than miserly Cardinals owner Sam Breadon would pay.
Since Musial grew up dirt poor in Donora, who could blame him for taking the money and heading south? But he resisted the temptation and stayed in St. Louis to become the area's most beloved resident. Musial didn't forget Donora, as he returned occasionally to visit relatives and attend high school reunions and other events. Some needy Donorans along with local organizations were recipients of Musial's unpublicized generosity.
Even opposing players could catch a kind word from Musial. Dodgers pitcher Joe Black was on the receiving end of a racial insult from the Cardinals dugout as Musial stepped to the plate during a June 9, 1952 game in St. Louis. Black took a shortcut through the Cardinals' dugout the next day to be met by Musial.
Black recalled, "He pulled me over to the side and he said, 'Forget those guys who call you names like that. You're a good pitcher. You're going to do OK.'"
Dickie Kerr was managing the Daytona Beach Islanders of the Class D Florida State League in 1940. A wild left-handed Islanders pitcher injured his throwing shoulder while making a diving catch in the outfield. Small minor league rosters and natural hitting ability meant the 19-year-old Musial was in the lineup when he wasn't on the mound, but this moment was a crisis. Young Stan was a newlywed, and his wife Lil was pregnant. They barely squeaked by on meager Class D wages, and it appeared the baseball dream could be over.
Kerr and his wife took in the Musials, providing encouragement and rent-free living quarters. The former pitcher told Musial that his future was in the outfield and not on the mound. Truer words were never spoken in a baseball situation. It would have been easy to forget the kindness of a low minor league manager and his wife, but that wasn't Musial's style. Kerr received a special gift when he turned 65 in 1958 when the Musials provided their old friends with a home in Houston.
My lone encounter with Stan the Man provided two Musial stories. At a 2003 dinner of the St. Louis Browns Fan Club, the first person I saw was Musial as he entered the building. "Wow! It's Musial! Stan the Man! This is cool! I don't believe it!" I said to my stunned self.
Despite the vast gap in fame and success between Musial and the usually inept Browns, the first-ballot Hall of Famer never attempted to be the center of attention. Musial was there to be with friends and soak in the baseball atmosphere. Not surprisingly, Browns Fan Club members lined up to have a word with Musial and get an autograph. No. 6 looked fans in the eye and spoke graciously to all. He signed for everybody who asked.
Musial story No. 1: A fan who was watching Musial provide numerous autographs for free said, "This is costing him money, but he doesn't care," referring to the very popular Stan the Man memorabilia business that sold autographed photos, balls, bats and jerseys.
Musial story No. 2: Former Browns outfielder Babe Martin proved to be a cooperative and friendly source of baseball lore at the dinner. As a St. Louis resident, Martin had occasional social contact with Musial, and he told about a dinner memory.
"I was out to eat with Stan and Dom DiMaggio," Martin said. "I went to the restroom. A guy I knew came up and said 'Babe, Babe! Can you get me Stan's autograph?' I told the guy to leave Stan alone and let him eat dinner. I went back to the table. Stan said, 'Who was that, Babe?'
"Musial always carried picture postcards for signing. He reached into his sportscoat, pulled out a postcard and signed it. Stan handed the card to me and said 'Go ahead and give this to him, Babe. I would be nothing without the fans.'"
As former teammate and long-time Cardinals radio announcer Mike Shannon said, "Stan isn't just a Hall of Fame player. He's a Hall of Fame person."
In honor of Stan Musial’s 100th birthday
Look for these new Musial-related projects: A Stan Musial Centennial Line with Arch Apparel, new card lines from Topps and Panini, the launch of Stan-branded Red Hot Peanuts with Celebrity Nut Co., a line of Stan Musial products with DugOut Mugs, and a partnership with Baseballism.