ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) — Stanley Frank Musial, baseball’s perfect knight that spent a franchise-record 22 seasons playing America’s national pastime with the St. Louis Cardinals, represented the very best that the community of St. Louis had to offer for over 70 years with a genuinely kind character and easy-sounding harmonica, died today. He was 92 years old.
Adopted by a Midwest town in love with baseball being the most western and southern location in the United States with a major league club until the 1960s, Stan was as much a Gateway to the West as The Arch. His accomplishments on the field for the Cardinals originally made him well-known as a one-of-a-kind ball player, but fans and non-baseball fans alike would quickly discover that Stan’s personality was just as rare and perhaps more impressive making him the most approachable superstar in the history of sports.
Forever considered the greatest of all Cardinals players, Stan “The Man” Musial remains on top of most franchise records with 3,026 games played, 10, 972 at-bats, 3,630 hits, 1,949 runs scored, 475 home runs, 1,951 RBIs, 725 doubles, 177 triples and 1,599 walks. Musial first wore the ‘birds on the bat’ jersey beginning in 1941 through 1963 making him one of five players in major league history to spend that amount of time with one team as he’s tied with Mel Ott (New York Giants) and Al Kaline (Detroit Tigers), but just one season shy of the 23 seasons that were played by Brooks Robinson (Baltimore Orioles) and Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox). Playing mostly as an outfielder and later a first baseman after no longer having the capability to be a pitcher, the Cardinals found a spot in the field for the corkscrew-stanced slugger that rarely struck out and usually found an outfield gap if not the bleachers.
Growing up in the mill town of Donora, Pennsylvania just 20 miles south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River where coal mining, steel and wire-making were the local industries, Stan had always been a fan of baseball. His first toy was a baseball as he told the crowd in Cooperstown, NY at his 1969 Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech. Regularly tossing the ball around with his brother and friends, Stan would also express in his speech the gratitude he had for Joe Barbao, a former minor league pitcher, that became an early mentor.
Musial would spend one season with the revived Donora High School baseball club, but was a multi-sport athlete also excelling at basketball. The University of Pittsburgh even wanted to give Stan an athletic scholarship to play basketball, which was essentially a dream come true for his Polish-immigrant father, Lukasz. However, his son did not share the same aspiration as Stan had the dream to grow up to be a big league ball player like Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, Paul Waner and Mel Ott.
Following a workout in 1937 with the Cardinals Class D Penn State League affiliate, the Monessen Cardinals, a scout by the name of Wid Matthews, who was a future general manager for the Chicago Cubs, wanted to sign Stan for his pitching abilities. Stan’s father, Lukasz Musial, wanted his son to go to college at Pitt refusing to sign the contract. As Stan would later tell the story at a statue dedication ceremony, he pleaded with his mother, Mary, to persuade his father to sign the contract with the Cardinals on Matthews’ third and final visit. Reluctantly, the Musial’s would sign the contract.
In 1938, Musial reported to the Williamson Colts of the Class D Mountain State League. As a pitcher, he went 6-6 with a 4.66 ERA in 20 games, including 7 complete games. A season later in 1939, he improved to 9-2 in 13 games, 12 starts with a 4.30 ERA, 86 strike outs and 85 walks in 92 innings pitched. Getting more recognition for his hitting, Stan would also play some outfield that season hitting .352 with 3 doubles, 3 triples and one home run.
Finally a high graduate going into the 1940 season, Stan went from the Class B Piedmont League to Class D Daytona Beach where his salary went from $70 to $100 a month. After getting married to Lil on May 25 at Daytona Beach, he would have his best professional season pitching with a 18-5 record, 2.62 ERA and 19 complete games over 223 innings. That season was also his first eye-opening season season at the plate hitting .311 with 10 triples, 70 RBI’s and one home run over 405 at-bats. The season with Daytona probably could have been a lot better, but Stan injured his shoulder on August 11 while making a diving catch in center field. After the injury, he would only try to pitch once more.
Since there was no off-season program and Stan worked at his father-in-law’s grocery store during the Winter at the time, the idea was that the left shoulder would heal with no strenuous baseball activity for a few months. Unfortunately when Stan reported to Class AA spring training camp in 1941, manager Bert Shotten, who was the future skipper for the Brooklyn Dodgers, noticed the young left-handed pitcher was struggling with velocity. Shotten decided to send Musial elsewhere so he could play as an outfielder.
The transition was not smooth as another manager, Clay Hopper, would continue to use Stan as a pitcher based on statistics from previous seasons. The experiment of using him as a reliever would not come to fruition forcing Stan to use his bat to survive.
During a meeting held by Cardinals general/business manager Branch Rickey involving all the affiliate managers, only Springfield affiliate manager Ollie Vanek was willing to take a chance with converted outfielder Stan Musial. Now with the Cardinals’ Class C Springfield ball club, Vanek would personally teach Musial how to properly play the outfield. Not needing much help with his swing, Stan went on to hit for a .379 average with a league-leading 26 home runs, 94 RBIs, 100 runs scored 27 doubles and 10 triples in 87 games.
Impressing future Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey plus the rest of the scouts in the system, Stan was promoted to Class AA Rochester in July 1941. In 54 games playing for the New York area club, he hit for a .326 average with 3 home runs and 21 RBIs. He would not spend much time there finally getting the call from the majors. While taking a nap on a train, Stan was woke up by his wife, Lil, informing him via telegram that he was to report to St. Louis immediately. He would make his Major League Baseball debut on September 17.
Musial got into the second game of a double-header against the Boston Braves. In his second official at-bat, Stan would adjust to the knuckle-ball throwing Jim Tobin after seeing him once, and pull a double off the right field wall for the his first major league hit. He would go on to tally 724 more doubles, which was probably his most signature hit. In 11 more games at the end of the 1941 season, Stan certainly provided a glimpse into his future ability by posting a .426 average in 47 at-bats. Ironically, Stan would never reach the rare .400 mark after all the full seasons to follow.
Heading into 1942, the Cardinals were in need of an everyday left fielder. Though he would have a poor spring training, Hall of Fame manager Billy Southworth told Stan and the media he was sticking with the 21-year-old. The confidence from the skipper paid off as Musial wound up hitting .315 with 10 home runs, 72 RBIs, and 87 runs scored. The 1942 Cardinals, considered the best club ever in franchise history with a standing record of 106 single-season wins, defeated the New York Yankees 4-1 in the World Series for the Redbird’s first championship since 1934 and fourth overall.
The young outfielder developed into a star in 1943, leading the league in eleven different offensive categories including a .357 batting average, 220 hits, 20 triples, 48 doubles and 347 total bases awarding him his first All-Star game appearance and NL MVP award. The Cardinals would win their second straight NL pennant yet the Yankees avenged the season prior winning the World Series 4-1. A big part of Stan’s success in just his second full major league season was the acquisition of Danny Litwhiler on June 1 from the Philadelphia Phillies. That put him in right field, a more natural position for his left throwing arm, for almost all of the 121 remaining games alleviating soreness he had experienced playing in left allowing him to swing without pain.
With World War II taking some of the game’s best players due to the military draft, franchises like the Cardinals had to become very dependent on the depth of the farm system. Though he would eventually enter the United States Navy in 1945, Musial did not have his draft number called through the 1944 season. He had another outstanding season hitting for .347 average, and could have won his second straight batting title if he had not come back early from a knee injury. Despite a small drop off before the postseason, Stan led the NL with 197 hits, 51 doubles and a .990 OPS. The Cardinals captured their third pennant and second World Series championship in Musial’s first 3 seasons beating the Browns in an all St. Louis series.
An unfortunate aspect of Stan’s illustrious career was his performance during during four World Series appearances. There were no playoffs during that time as the two best clubs from each league went straight to eventually became the final round in the modern era. In 23 career Fall Classic games with the Cardinals in 1942-44 and 1946, Musial hit just .256 with one home run and 8 RBIs. While the statistics are not spectacular, the most important reality was that the Cardinals did win 3 World Series championships during that span. If one of the four overall appearances were his best, then 1944 against George Sisler and the Browns was the one when he hit for a .304 average with a homer in Game 4 and 7 hits total during the series.
Following the Musial and the Cardinals’ third full season together, the Donora draft board came calling in January 1945. Now in the U.S. Navy, Stan was still able to play baseball serving as a form of entertainment for soldiers with other professional ball players. Quickly noticing the big appeal of home runs especially with the servicemen, Stan made an adjustment moving closer to the plate to add power to an already incredible swing.
Honorably discharged on March 1, 1946 , Stan was able to return to the Cardinals just before the 1946 spring training session. Now adding power to his swing plus keeping the rest of his Hall of Fame skills sharp with exhibition games during his service, Musial was due for a big statistical season. However, he would strain ligaments in his left knee that Spring due the condition of the playing field that had recently been used for military training.
The Cardinals made an adjustment splitting his time between the outfield and first base. While the injury may have been an issue for Stan the rest of his playing career, he went on to have a great 1946 season leading the NL in twelve offensive categories including a .365 average, 228 hits, 16 home runs, 103 RBIs, 124 runs scored, 50 doubles and 1.021 OPS. The performance would earn him a second NL MVP, second batting title and third World Series title as the Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox in a classic 7-game series that was highlighted by Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” around the bases in the decisive seventh game.
Another noteworthy story from the 1946 season also marked when Stan Musial was dubbed “The Man”. During the rubber-match of a 3-game series at Ebbets Field on June 23 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Bob Broeg heard fans chanting whenever Musial came to bat after he had already gone 7-10 in the 2 games prior. Later talking with Cardinals traveling secretary Leo Ward about what the fans were chanting, he confirmed that they said “here comes the man”. One column later, he was known as Stan “The Man” Musial. The name coming from Brooklyn fans was only appropriate as “The Man” had his best visiting ballpark numbers at Ebbets hitting for a .359 average with 37 home runs, 126 RBIs, 141 runs scored, 50 doubles, 96 walks and 1.108 OPS in 163 games.
The 1946 World Series would be the last for Stan and the Cardinals until 1964 when he was working in the front office. In 1947, Stan had what he called “that lousy year” due to health issues involving his tonsils and appendix. He spent the entire season at first base hitting .312 with 19 home runs, 113 RBIs and 95 runs scored. Getting rid of the health problems during the off-season, Stan got back to outfield but had to spend most of the time in left or center as the season progressed.
Regardless of any strain that may have put on his left arm as it had in the past, Musial had his best offensive season in all of his 22 major league seasons and certainly one of the best all-time in the history of baseball. Winning his third and final NL MVP at the age of 27, Stan led the NL in 11 different offensive categories falling a home run short of capturing the first NL Triple Crown since Joe “Ducky” Medwick did it with the Cardinals in 1937. “The Man” would set career single-season marks hitting for a .376 average with 39 home runs, 131 RBIs, 135 runs scored, 230 hits, 429 total bases and 1.152 OPS. More impressive was that during 698 plate appearances over 155 games that season, he would only have 34 strike outs.
While the Cardinals would not finish better than second place for the rest of his playing career, Musial excelled through the 1950s winning four more batting titles including three consecutive from 1950-1952. He would begin to get more national attention as a 1952 controversial article written by Hall of Fame outfielder Ty Cobb in Life Magazine declared that Stan Musial and only Phil Rizzuto of the New York Yankees were the only players that could be considered to be comparable to any of the ‘oldtime greats’. While Cobb may not have been completely accurate, his notion of Stan was quite valid as he would lead multiple offensive categories in seven of the ten years through the decade including 9 total in 1952 with a .336 average, 194 hits 105 runs scored and 42 doubles.
Although having batting averages of .337 and .330 in the 1953 and 1954 seasons, Stan fell short of winning more batting titles. He made baseball history on May 2, 1954 becoming the first major league player to hit 5 home runs in a doubleheader against the New York Giants at what was then called Busch Stadium I. The only player besides Musial to hit 5 home runs in a doubleheader is St. Louis native Nate Colbert when he was with the San Diego Padres in 1972. Though Stan was not generally thought of as being a typical home run hitter, “The Man” would average 31 per season from 1948 to 1957.
One of his last seasons of putting up big numbers before more steady decline was 1957 when he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated by hitting for a .351 average with 29 home runs and 102 RBIs at the age of 36. For that performance, owner Gussie Busch signed him to one of the first $100,000 contracts in history on January 29, 1958. While in the modern era of baseball some individuals are signing hundred million dollar contracts for their playing skills, Musial would make just $1.3 million over his 22 seasons. To put things in perspective in how the game has changed, or evolved, the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals payroll has 13 players making more this season than what Musial made during his entire playing career.
As Musial was approaching the 3,000-hit milestone in 1958, Stan expressed a desire to record the hit in St. Louis. During that era of baseball, the 3,000-hit club had become rare as there had not been a new member added to the small collection of only 7 players since Musial’s childhood hero, Paul Waner, accomplished the feat on June 19, 1942. To later make Stan’s occasion even more special, the first of the next twenty players to achieve 3,000 hits would not happen until May 17, 1970 when Hank Aaron joined the club.
On May 13, 1958 manager Fred Hutchinson made a decision not to start Musial and vowed to only use use him as a pinch-hitter. In the sixth inning at Wrigley Field taking on the rival Chicago Cubs, the situation to use Musial presented itself. Called upon by his manager with his club leading 3-1 to hit for starting pitcher Sam Jones with right-fielder Gene Green at second, Musial laced a RBI double to left field off of Cubs pitcher Moe Drabowsky becoming the first player ever to reach the 3,000-hit milestone with an extra-base hit.
The Cardinals, taking their final train trip from Chicago in franchise history, made stops at every station giving fans a chance to get a glimpse of only the eighth major league player to have 3,000 hits. With fans lined up along the tracks for the entire trip, Musial was then later greeted at St. Louis Union Station that late evening by thousands of fans including many children who were told to take off school the next day by Stan himself. That was a Tuesday night.
After that season from 1958-1963, Stan would only hit over .300 mark twice more. Though he would not dominate offensive categories like before, he kept setting records. On May 7, 1959, Musial’s game-winning home run against the Cubs made him the first major league player ever with 400 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Refusing to make the Cardinals have to pay for his legacy and years of amazing performance on the field, “The Man” took a pay cut in 1960 from his previous $100,000 salary to $80,000. He would continue to work hard in his final seasons surprising fans and critics at the age of 41 by finishing third in the NL hitting for a .330 average with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs. He played one more season before finally retiring at the conclusion of the 1963 season at age 43.
Stan Musial ended his career with a lifetime .331 batting average, 475 home runs, 1,951 runs batted in, 1,949 runs scored, 3,630 hits, 177 triples, and 725 doubles, 696 strike outs, .417 on-base percentage, .559 slugging percentage and .976 OPS. He either held or tied for 17 major league records, 29 NL records, and nine All-Star Game records at the time of his retirement. A player of balance and consistency, Musial compiled 1,815 hits at home over the course of his career while also having 1,815 hits on the road.
Immediately following retirement in which his No. 6 was the first to be retired by the Cardinals franchise, Musial was quickly named a vice president for the organization, and he remained in that position until after the 1966 season. He was also named President Lyndon Johnson’s physical fitness adviser from 1964-1967. Before the 1967 season, the Cardinals named Musial the general manager helping the franchise win the second World Series title during the 1960s and second in four seasons. Following the 1967 season in which there were some personal occurrences, Stan decided to step down before completing a full year as general manager.
The following Summer on August 4, 1968, the Cardinals put up the famed statue of Stan Musial outside of Busch Stadium II. The statue, now on the west side of Busch Stadium III, has been the essential meeting place for generations of ‘Cardinal Nation’. An inscription on the base of the statue quotes former baseball commissioner Ford Frick: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight”.
Musial was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1969. In his induction speech, Stan could not believe he had come back to Cooperstown after first visiting in 1942 when he met Connie Mack, baseball’s all-time winningest manager. While naming several players along with some broadcasters and other friends, Musial thanked all of his family for their support for many years of involvement with a sport that made him a living legend.
Living in the St. Louis community since arriving as a baseball player in 1941, Stan “The Man” Musial was more than likely seen or even heard playing his harmonica by just about every person residing in the area. Coming back to Busch Stadium as often as possible, it has been the thrill of countless Cardinals’ fans just to see the greatest Redbird of them all for only a moment. His final ceremonial first pitch was before Game 5 of the 2006 World Series in which the Cardinals would clinch over the Detroit Tigers for the franchise’s tenth championship.
Along with a number of appearances throughout the years at the ballpark whether for the home opener or before a postseason game, one of the more proud accomplishments was February 15, 2011 when Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. A campaign, launched in 2010, built enough support to make sure Stan received the great honor for his lifetime of achievement and service.
The St. Louis Cardinals, communities of St. Louis and Donora, sports fans and the world together has lost a man that we will likely never again see, nor encounter. Thank you Stan Musial for the countless memories along with your grace, kindness, decency and friendship.
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