Stan Musial

21 Nov 1920
19 Jan 2013
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Stanley Frank “Stan” Musial ( born Stanisław Franciszek Musiał; November 21, 1920 – January 19, 2013), nicknamed “Stan the Man”, was an American Major League Baseball (MLB) outfielder and first baseman. He spent 22 seasons playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, from 1941 to 1945 and in 1946–63.

Musial is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most consistent hitters in baseball history, Musial was a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. He was also selected to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 2014.

Musial batted .331 over his career and set National League (NL) records for career hits (3,630), runs batted in (1,951), games played (3,026), at bats (10,972), runs scored (1,949) and doubles (725), most of which were later broken by Pete Rose; his 475 career home runs then ranked second in NL history behind Mel Ott’s total of 511. His 6,134 total bases remained a major league record until surpassed by Hank Aaron, and his hit total still ranks fourth all-time, and is the highest by any player who spent his career with only one team.

A seven-time batting champion with identical totals of 1,815 hits at home and on the road, he was named the National League’s (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times and led St. Louis to three World Series championship titles. He also shares the major league record for the most All-Star Games played (24) with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania, where he frequently played baseball, whether informally or in organized settings, eventually playing on the baseball team at Donora High School. Signed to a professional contract by the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher in 1938, Musial was converted into an outfielder prior to his major league debut in 1941. Noted for his unique batting stance, he quickly established himself as a consistent and productive hitter. In his first full season, 1942, the Cardinals won the World Series.

The following year, he led the NL in six different offensive categories and earned his first MVP award. He was also named to the NL All-Star squad for the first time; he appeared in every All-Star game in every subsequent season he played. Musial won his second World Series championship in 1944, then missed the entire 1945 season while serving with the Navy.

When he returned to baseball in 1946, Musial resumed his consistent hitting. That year he earned his second MVP award and third World Series title. His third MVP award came in 1948, when he finished one home run shy of winning baseball’s Triple Crown. After struggling offensively in 1959, Musial used a personal trainer to help maintain his productivity until he decided to retire in 1963.

At the time of his retirement, he held or shared 17 major league records, 29 National League records, and nine All-Star Game records. Ironically, in 1964, the season following his retirement, the Cardinals went on to defeat the New York Yankees in an epic 7-game clash, for St. Louis’ first World Series championship in nearly two decades (a team which included future Hall of Famer Lou Brock performing what would have likely been Musial’s left field duties).

In addition to overseeing businesses, such as a restaurant both before and after his playing career, Musial served as the Cardinals’ general manager in 1967, winning the pennant and World Series, then quitting that position. He also became noted for his harmonica playing, a skill he acquired during his playing career.

Known for his modesty and sportsmanship, Musial was selected for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. In February 2011, President Barack Obama presented Musial with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian awards that can be bestowed on a person by the United States government.

Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania, the fifth of the six children (four girls and two boys) of Lukasz and Mary .

His mother was of Carpatho-Rusyn descent and his father was a Polish immigrant who chose the name Stanisław Franciszek for his first son, though his father always referred to Musial using the Polish nickname Stasiu, pronounced “Stashu”.

Musial frequently played baseball with his brother Ed and other friends during his childhood, and considered Lefty Grove his favorite ballplayer.

Musial also had the benefit of learning about baseball from his neighbor Joe Barbao, a former minor league pitcher. When he enrolled in school, his name was formally changed to Stanley Frank Musial.

At age 15 Musial joined the Donora Zincs, a semi-professional team managed by Barbao. In his Zincs debut he pitched 6 innings and struck out 13 batters, all of them adults.

Musial also played one season on the newly revived Donora High School baseball team, where one of his teammates was Buddy Griffey, father of MLB player Ken Griffey, Sr. and grandfather to Ken Griffey, Jr. Baseball statistician Bill James described the younger Griffey, in comparison to Musial, as “the second-best left-handed hitting, left-handed throwing outfielder ever born in Donora, Pennsylvania, on November 21.” His exploits as a rising player in Pennsylvania earned him the nickname “The Donora Greyhound”.

Musial also played basketball, for which he was offered a scholarship by the University of Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals had scouted Musial as a pitcher and, in 1937, offered him a professional contract after a workout with their Class D Penn State League affiliate. Musial’s father initially resisted the idea of his son pursuing a baseball career, but reluctantly gave his consent after lobbying by both Musial and his mother.

Musial also credited his school librarian Helen Kloz for pointing out that baseball was his dream and advising him to pursue it professionally. In what was then a common practice, the Cardinals did not file the contract with the baseball commissioner’s office until June 1938.

This preserved Musial’s amateur eligibility, and he was still able to participate in high school sports, leading Donora High School’s basketball team to a playoff appearance. He then reported to the Cardinals’ Class D affiliate in West Virginia, the Williamson Red Birds.

Musial’s rookie year with Williamson in 1938 was a period of adjustment both on and off the field. He began gaining more in-depth knowledge about baseball strategy while posting a 6–6 win–loss record and a 4.66 earned run average (ERA), to go along with a .258 batting average. Off the field he confronted feelings of homesickness, while learning to live comfortably and independently on his $65-per-month salary.

Musial finished his high school education before returning to Williamson in spring 1939. That season his numbers improved to a 9–2 record, a 4.30 ERA, and a .352 batting average.

Musial spent the 1940 season with the Cardinals’ other Class D team, the Daytona Beach Islanders, where he developed a lifelong friendship with manager Dickie Kerr. His pitching skills improved under the guidance of Kerr, who also recognized his hitting talent, playing him in the outfield between pitching starts.

On May 25, 1940, Musial married fellow Donora resident, Lillian “Lil” Labash, in Daytona Beach, and the couple’s first child followed in August. During late August, Musial suffered a shoulder injury while playing in the outfield, and later made an early exit as the starting pitcher in a 12–5 playoff game loss.

For a while Musial considered leaving baseball entirely, complaining that he could not afford to support himself and his wife on the $16 a week pay. Kerr talked him out of it, and even took the Musials into his own home to relieve the financial burden. To repay the debt Musial bought Kerr a $20,000 home in Houston in 1958. In 113 games in 1940 he hit .311, while compiling an 18–5 pitching record that included 176 strikeouts and 145 walks.

Musial was assigned to the Class AA Columbus Red Birds to begin 1941, though manager, Burt Shotton, and Musial himself quickly realized that the previous year’s injury had considerably weakened his arm. He was reassigned to the Class C Springfield Cardinals as a full-time outfielder, and he later credited manager Ollie Vanek for displaying confidence in his hitting ability.

During 87 games with Springfield, Musial hit a league-leading .379 before being promoted to the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. He was noted for his unique batting stance, a crouch in which his back was seemingly square to the pitcher. This stance was later described by pitcher Ted Lyons as “a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops were coming”.

According to a 1950 description by author Tom Meany, “The bent knees and the crouch give him the appearance of a coiled spring, although most pitchers think of him as a coiled rattlesnake.” Musial continued to play well in Rochester—in one three-game stretch, he had 11 hits. He was called up to the Cardinals for the last two weeks of the 1941 season.

Musial was named a vice president of the St. Louis Cardinals in September 1963, and he remained in that position until after the 1966 season. From February 1964 to January 1967, he also served as President Lyndon Johnson’s physical fitness adviser, a part-time position created to promote better fitness among American citizens.

Before the 1967 season began, the Cardinals named Musial the team’s general manager, and he oversaw the club’s World Series championship that year. He won the allegiance of Cardinals players by making fair offers from the outset of player-contract negotiations and creating an in-stadium babysitting service so players’ wives could attend games.

His longtime business partner Biggie Garagnani died in June 1967, prompting Musial to devote more time to managing his restaurant and other business interests. He came to realize that the detail-oriented desk job was not his forte. He consequently decided to step down as general manager, before even completing a full year on the job.

Musial was noted for his harmonica playing, including his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. Through the 1990s, he frequently played the harmonica at public gatherings, such as the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony and various charity events.

He performed on the television show Hee Haw and in 1994 recorded 18 songs that were sold in tandem with a harmonica-playing instruction booklet.

Musial met Lillian Susan Labash in Donora when both were 15, and married her in St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Daytona Beach, Florida on May 25, 1940. They had four children: son Richard, and daughters Gerry, Janet, and Jeanie. Lillian Musial died at 91, on May 3, 2012; their marriage had lasted for almost 72 years. In his final years, Musial suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Musial died at age 92 of natural causes on January 19, 2013, at his home in Ladue, Missouri, on the same day as fellow MLB Hall of Fame inductee Earl Weaver. Musial was surrounded by his family as he died peacefully. Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, Jr. released the following statement:

We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family. Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history and one of the best players in the history of baseball.

The entire Cardinals organization extends its sincere condolences to Stan’s family, including his children Richard, Gerry, Janet and Jean, as well as his eleven grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren. We join fans everywhere in mourning the loss of our dear friend and reflect on how fortunate we all are to have known ‘Stan the Man’.

Upon hearing the news of his death, fans gathered and began an impromptu memorial by his statue outside Busch Stadium; the Cardinals issued a release saying the memorial would be left in place for some time.[182] In a laudatory obituary, The New York Times quoted famed New York manager Leo Durocher: “There is only one way to pitch to Musial—under the plate.”

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon commented: “Stan Musial was a great American hero who—with the utmost humility—inspired us all to aim high and dream big. The world is emptier today without him, but far better to have known him. The legacy of ‘baseball’s perfect warrior’ will endure and inspire generations to come.”

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay tweeted: “Sad as we are, we are fortunate to have had Stan in STL for so long, and are also glad that Stan and Lil are together again.” He ordered flags at half-mast in the city

“Major League Baseball has lost one of its true legends in Stan Musial, a Hall of Famer in every sense and a man who led a great American life,” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “He was the heart and soul of the historic St. Louis Cardinals franchise for generations, and he served his country during World War II. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, Stan’s life embodies baseball’s unparalleled history and why this game is the national pastime.”

Thousands of fans braved cold temperatures on January 24 for a public visitation at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, where Musial lay in state, dressed in his trademark cardinal-red blazer and with a harmonica in his lapel pocket, flanked by a Navy honor guard. A private funeral Mass was held on Saturday, January 26, 2013, at the New Cathedral in St. Louis, televised locally by KTVI and KPLR as well as Fox Sports Midwest on pay-television.
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who in his first episcopal post served as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, was the principal celebrant, and Knoxville’s Bishop Richard F. Stika, Musial’s former parish priest, was the homilist.

Bob Costas gave the principal eulogy, calling him “the genuine hero who as the years and decades passed, and disillusionment came from other directions, never once let us down”, and quoting fellow Cooperstown honoree Mickey Mantle, who once said that Musial “was a better player than me because he was a better man than me”.

Following the funeral, Musial’s family led a procession from the New Cathedral to Busch Stadium, where they laid a memorial wreath at his statue. Once the wreath was placed and Musial’s family began to walk back to their vehicles, the hundreds of Cardinal fans gathered for the wreath ceremony gave both Musial and his family one final salute. That salute was the fans singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” before Musial was taken to his final place of rest.

Musial was the last living member of the Cardinals team that won the 1942 World Series. At the time of his death, no living players had played on an earlier World Series-winning team.

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