One of the most awe-inspiring baseball players of all time died last Saturday, Stan “the Man” Musial. He was a great, great player for the St. Louis Cardinals with a lifetime batting average of .331. He was also celebrated for his good sportsmanship, his refusal to complain, his good-nature, and. his generosity to fans. Sort of the anti-Lance Armstrong.
From his Washington Post obituary by Dennis Drabelle:
Stan “The Man” Musial, one of major league baseball’s most prolific hitters and a model of good sportsmanship during his Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Cardinals, died Saturday. He was 92.
The death was announced by the team. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he had Alzheimer’s disease.
The most beloved Cardinal of all, Mr. Musial led the National League in batting seven times in the 1940s and ’50s and was voted the league’s most valuable player three times. His lifetime batting average was .331, his total of 3,630 hits ranks fourth all-time, and he was a perennial all-star. After spending the entirety of his 22-year career with the Cardinals, Mr. Musial retired in 1963 with so many firsts to his credit that he may have carved out a new category: the record for holding the most records at one time. . . .
Mr. Musial’s nickname of “Stan The Man” was given him by St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg, who in 1946 overheard fans at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field react to the outfielder’s success against their pitchers by muttering, “Here comes the man,” when Mr. Musial stepped to the plate. Dodgers pitcher Preacher Roe offered this advice on how to get Mr. Musial out: “I throw him four wide ones and then I try to pick him off first base.”. . . .
For all his accomplishments, Mr. Musial did not always receive the credit he deserved. Recently, analysts for ESPN put him at the top of its list of underrated athletes. The neglect is attributable both to the conditions he played in and to his own personality.
For the most part, he performed his feats outside the range of the Eastern media limelight that shone steadily on such peers as Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. After that first rush of titles, the Cardinals were hit by a pennant drought that lasted the remainder of Mr. Musial’s career. And Mr. Musial himself was neither a showboat nor a whiner.
He was so unruffled, in fact, that no umpire ever threw Mr. Musial out of a major-league game. One day he hit what appeared to be a double until an umpire called it foul. Mr. Musial’s teammates disagreed vehemently, but the Man kept his cool, trotting back to the plate and asking, “It didn’t count?”
When the home-plate umpire allowed as how the call might have been wrong, Mr. Musial said, “Well, there’s nothing you can do about it,” and smacked the next pitch to virtually the same spot — this time called fair.
That equanimity, along with a generosity to autograph-seekers and a sunny disposition, inspired Ford Frick, commissioner of baseball during much of Mr. Musial’s career, to pay these respects, which appear on Mr. Musial’s statue outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”. . .
Mr. Musial’s excellence over a long period offers rich material to stat-hounds. But true athletic greatness resists quantifying. Rather than try to do so with the Man, longtime Dodgers’ announcer Vin Scully said this about him: “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”
Fellow-Patheos blogger Frank Weathers has written a fine tribute to Musial’s life and his Catholic faith.