Stan Musial passed away at age 92. Brooklyn fans dubbed Musial, “The Man” for his hitting prowess. The name stuck for life. Musial lived up to the nickname on and off the field. Few players achieved Musial’s level of excellence. Likewise, few individuals were as kind as Musial. Essentially, Stan the Man represented everything Americans expect of their heroes on and off the field.
15-year-old Musial began his career playing semi-pro ball. He also played on his high school team with the father of Ken Griffey Sr. The St. Louis Cardinals liked the young pitcher and signed him as an amateur free agent in 1938. The club converted the pitcher to the outfield and he joined the big club in 1941. The outfielder hit .426 in 12 games.
The St. Louis Cardinals won pennants in Musial’s next four seasons. He hit .315 for the 1942 World Champions, won the batting title with a .357 average for the National League Champions, .347 for the 1944 World Champions, and a league best .365 for the 1946 World Champions. Musial won the MVP in 1943 and 1946. Brooklyn fans started calling him “The Man” in 1946 and sportswriter Bob Broeg printed it. Afterward, Stan was the Man for eternity. Musial enlisted in 1945 and missed the entire season. Without him, St. Louis missed the postseason.
Musial won three Most Valuable Player Awards. His third came in 1948 when he had a season for the ages. He made up for lost time the following campaign. In 1948, he fell one home run short of the Triple Crown. He also slapped his 1000th hit. Overall, Musial led the league in hitting (.376), runs (135), hits (230), doubles (46), triples (18), RBI (131), OBP (.450), slugging (.702), total bases (429), and OPS (1.152). Musial is the last man to legitimately slug over .700.
Stan the Man achieved at a high level on the field and tried to do the same off. Critics blasted players for appearing in cigarette ads. Musial heard the complaints and agreed. He decided to not to promote cigarettes out of concern for people’s health. Musial remained fan friendly throughout his life. Tim McCarver put it succinctly when he mentioned that Musial’s nickname, “The Man”, was appropriate because of his off-field demeanor. Broadcaster Bob Costas concurred, “All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.”
Few ever claimed Detroit Tiger great Ty Cobb was a good person. In 1952, Cobb wrote an article praising Musial’s talent and claiming the Cardinal was a better player than Joe DiMaggio. Musial humbly disagreed claiming he was not as good as DiMaggio. That season, he won his sixth batting title. He won his seventh and final crown five years later. He retired after the 1963 season.
Musial’s career spanned three eras. He entered the majors before World War II. His Cardinals dominated the war era. Musial played before Jackie Robinson and through integration. Cobb’s article appeared during baseball’s golden age. He retired following the first expansion. Musial began his career as a 20-year-old rookie and retired a 42-year-old grandfather. He appeared in 24 All Star Games, won three World Series as a player, three MVPs, and seven batting titles. Bill James rated Musial the tenth best player of all-time and second greatest left fielder. He remains in the top 10 all time in eight major offensive categories. Overall, Musial hit .331 with 475 home runs, 1951 RBI, and.976 OPS. He had 3630 career hits with 1815 coming at home and 1815 on the road.
The baseball great enjoyed a 50-year retirement. He served in the Cardinals’ front office and won two more titles in 1964 and 1967. Musial helped put together the 1967 champions as general manager. He also served as President Lyndon Johnson’s physical fitness adviser, made guest appearances on Hee Haw, and recorded a harmonica album in 1994. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Musial was an easy selection for the 1999 All-Century Team. Recently, Musial threw out the first pitch of Game 5 of the 2006 World Series and delivered the ceremonial first pitch ball to President Barack Obama for the 2009 All Star Game. President Obama awarded Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Obama described Musial as an untarnished icon. He lost his wife the following year after 72 years of marriage. Stan joined her yesterday.
Few players were as great on and off the field as Stan Musial. On the field, Musial was one of the top 10 greatest players of all time. Off the field, he was equally remarkable. Former Commissioner Ford C. Frick anointed him “baseball’s perfect knight.” He won multiple World Series, batting titles, and MVP Awards. Musial also lived the right way. He represented everything people want in their heroes. As President Obama put it, Musial was “a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.”