Stan Musial died today. Certainly one of the most beloved and iconic players in the history of major league baseball. In June 2011 we published the following essay about the great man.
I have never bought into Leo Durocher’s dictum that “nice guys finish last.” As a major league manager Leo should have known better, as his teams played against Stan “The Man” Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals.
It is great news that George Vecsey recently published a biography on the great man (Stan Musial An American Life, ESPN/Ballentine Books 2011)
Unfortunately, even with his Hall of Fame statistics-a lifetime batting average of .331 and nearly 2000 RBIs, Musial did not receive the approbation reserved for the stars who played on east or west coast teams. While St. Louis is a great baseball town, it simply isn’t a mega media hub. Moreover, Stan Musial was not a controversial guy. He didn’t have an incendiary personality that attracts press coverage or an over the top life style. He was simply a gifted athlete who is also a kind and decent man. When I speak on the attributes of heroes, my audience nods in agreement when I observe that we always feel better just being in the presence of great women and men. One Musial team-mate said that you could “feel” his presence in a room; that when he was near, you knew everything would be alright.
When I was growing up there were no so-called “Super Stars.” Surely there were “stars” but to us kids all major leaguers were already special, different from the rest of us in ways exceptional. Perhaps we really do suffer from some sort of cultural excess that spawned additional gradients of stardom. Could it be we’ll soon coin the term “Nova.” for super, super stars? Better still, how about “Super Nova” as they radiate an even more intense light. Put another way, the notion of celebrity has in many ways been turned on its ear. Celebrity is an affectation of the press. Most often it has no relationship to competency, work ethic, integrity or faith-the values that make some of us truly great. That’s why reflections on people such as Stan Musial are meaningful. They serve as instruments to maintain and sometimes repair our societal fabric.
I actually have a Stan Musial story. In 1986 Jean and I were visiting friends at Cooperstown, New York over the weekend when several inductees would enter The Baseball Hall of Fame. Of course Stan Musial had long before been so honored. Naturally, many baseball notables would be in attendance.
On the day before the ceremony, I was playing golf at the local golf course. At about 8:00 a.m. I was walking down a fairway that ran parallel to a small dirt road. Standing on the road were about 20 people; men, women and several small children. Many had donned the baseball caps and the jackets of their favorite teams. Most held pads and pens. Curious, I asked a nearest man to me why they were standing there? He smiled and said, “We heard that Stan Musial might be playing golf here today and we didn’t want to miss the chance to see him and get an autograph”! I often thought about that scene and one day realized that imbedded in that encounter was an important teaching. Those early morning fans knew that if Stan Musial walked by their vigil would be rewarded. They accepted as an article of faith that he would most certainly stop.
As you probably know the current St. Louis star is Albert Pujols. Possibly the best player in the game, he is also known as a kind and compassionate man. As his fame grew, some Cardinal fans began to call him “El Hombre”. While surely grateful, Pujols reminded his fans that in St. Louis there is only one man – and that man is Stan.