(If you were expecting the second part to Pi and Reality, I apologize. The passing of this great baseball player compelled me to write this week’s article on his life and legacy. I will return to Pi next week.)
“Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.” The commissioner of baseball, Ford Frick, spoke those words of one of the legends of the game. The words now appear at the base of his statue, placed outside his hometown ballpark, where he played every game of his 22-year career. Last Saturday, January 19, that legend departed from this world, 92 years old, leaving one of the most impeccable reputations in the history of the game, or any sport, for that matter.
Stanislaw Franciszek Musial entered the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 20 on September 17, 1941, playing in the second game of a doubleheader. He had two hits in a 3-2 Cardinals win. Twenty-two years later he played his final major league game on September 29, 1963 and again had two hits in a 3-2 Cardinals win. In between, he collected another 3,626 hits, fourth on the list of most career hits, amassing 6,134 total bases, second on the all-time list.
His achievements astound the most sophisticated statisticians: 7 batting titles, 3 MVP’s, 20 All-Star selections, missed the Triple Crown by only one home run in 1948, second player to receive $100,000 salary (1958), voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot (93.2% in 1969), 17 consecutive years batting over .300 and 11 over .333, .331 life-time batting average, sixth on all-time list of games played (3,026), and third in doubles (725). But the staggering stat is that during his 10,972 plate appearances, he struck out only 696 times, an average of only 33 times during his 21 full seasons (or once every 59 at-bats), with the highest being 46 in 1962, when he was 41 years old.
One of the great accolades to him was spoken by Dodgers’ pitcher Karl Erskine, who said he found a winning tactic for pitching to Musial. “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third.” Dodgers pitcher Preacher Roe said the best way to defend against him was to “Throw him four wide ones [walk him] and then pick him off first base.”
His eminent statistics do not tell the full story. It was Stan the Man’s character that attracted tributes like the one on his statue from every person who knew him. He was a consummate good sport, rarely arguing with umpires and never ejected from a game. On one occasion he hit what appeared to be a double down the right field line, which the umpire ruled a foul ball. While his teammates vocalized their displeasure with the call, Musial trotted back to the plate, looked at the umpire and asked, “It didn’t count?” The umpire conceded he may have made the wrong call, but Musial said, “Well there’s nothing you can do about it.” On the next pitch he hit a ball in almost the exact same spot, this time ruled fair.
St. Louis is known as one of the most respected and respectable group of fans in baseball. Occasionally they have their moments. In August of 1956 Musial had two errors in a game and had gone hitless for two games. When he came to the plate in the eighth inning, some fans began booing him (the only time in his career), but were quickly drowned out by a counter hail of cheers. The next morning a group of fans purchased ad space in the local newspapers and apologized to the The Man.
Last year the National Sportsmanship Awards were renamed The Musial Awards.
Conferred each year by the St. Louis Sportsmanship Commission, the awards acknowledge outstanding acts of sportsmanship around the country. “The event recognizes those who exemplify class, character, selflessness, civility and integrity in sports – traits synonymous with Stan the Man.” (The St. Louis Review)
In 1947 promoters enticed big-name players to leave the the MBL and join a newly formed Mexican league. They were offering very large salaries and offered Musial $125,000 over 5 years. He had made $18,500 the previous season. He refused the offer. “Back in my day, we didn’t think about money as much. We enjoyed playing the game. We loved baseball. I didn’t think about anybody else but the Cardinals.”
In 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Many southern players vehemently opposed integration in the MBL. Rumors suggested that the Cardinals, loaded with southern-born players, were planning a strike to protest Robinson’s entrance into the league. Musial refused to support it, although in later years he would argue that no such strike was planned. Robinson remembers that “Musial always treated me with courtesy.”
I could go on with the stories and accolades, but books have already been written to do that. I have dedicated this article to give tribute to one of the greatest men to have worn a baseball uniform, not just because he was a great player, but because he was a great person.
Perhaps Musial’s character was significantly shaped by his faith. He faithfully worshiped in the Catholic Church his entire life, even taking his wheel-chair bound wife to mass on Sundays until she died (he was 91). “This was a man of great faith who loved the Mass and was thrilled any time he could take Holy Communion,” said Msgr. John Leykam. Musial once explained, “Every day that I can I go to Mass and Communion. There I make my Morning Offering and that way you can even turn an error into a prayer.”
I am grieving the loss of this great Cardinal, not simply because I am an avid Cardinals fan, but because he was my namesake. So impressed with the character of this ballplayer, my dad chose the name Stan for his firstborn son. I have always carried it with pride.
A name can provide the lodestar for one’s life, giving direction and perspective to one’s life. This is why the name of Jesus plays such a vital role to the followers of Christ.
“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ …” (1 Cor. 6:11).
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him …” (2 Thess. 1:11-12).
My namesake may have died, but the character of his name lives on. I can only hope that I can do as much for the name as The Man did for it.
More than that, Jesus died for our sins, but he was raised from the dead for our justification. His name has that eternal power for us and it should spur us on to live faithfully for him every day. I only hope that I can bring glory to his name through the way I live my life today.