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It's one more summer to 'Stand for Stan'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: On Sept. 29, 1963 -- "Stan Musial Day" in St. Louis -- 27,576 fans rose to their feet as the 42-year-old Cardinals great was driven around the field seated on the back of a convertible. Team owner August "Gussie" Busch Jr. spoke on behalf of the loyal legions at Busch Stadium that Sunday afternoon and for the countless thousands watching the pre-game retirement ceremonies on live TV at home.

"We wish you could go on forever," Busch said.

Forty-seven years later, the Cardinals have enlisted their fans once again to "Stand for Stan " and join a grass-roots campaign to convince President Barack Obama to award Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States.

Since the campaign was announced on May 25, more than 14,000 people have signed the online petition and the website is approaching 50,000 page views, according to Ron Watermon, the Cardinals director of public relations and civic affairs who is spearheading the project.

"You can tell that the fans are enthusiastic about it," Watermon said, adding that this is not just about recognizing Musial's playing career. "It's his life. It's who he's been since he walked out of the game that makes him a household name. He has been a pillar of our community."

Musial: The highlight reel

  • Spent his entire 22-year Major League baseball career as a Cardinal, establishing a National League record for most seasons with one club
  • Most Valuable Player in the National League: 1943, 1946, 1948
  • Career batting average: .331. He won seven NL batting titles
  • Hit five home runs in a May 2, 1954, doubleheader vs. the New York Giants
  • Played on World Series championship teams in 1942, 1944 and 1946 and the pennant-winner in 1943
  • When he retired on Sept. 29, 1963, he was ranked first in NL history in hits (3,630) and home runs (475)
  • His nickname grew out of unhappy Brooklyn Dodgers fans complaining about his hitting, as in: "Here comes 'that man' again."
  • Was Cardinals general manager for one season, 1967, when the team beat Boston in the World Series
  • Recipient of the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1957 for exemplifying good character
  • Named to Major League Baseball's All-Century team in 1999
  • Appointed as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964
  • Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, his first year of eligibility
  • Served as chairman of the Crippled Children's Society of St. Louis for 20 years and on boards of organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, the USO, Senior Olympics and Muscular Dystrophy Association
  • Served as an unofficial ambassador of goodwill to Poland during the Cold War years. In the late 1980s, Musial, the son of a Polish immigrant, sent thousands of dollars worth of baseball equipment at his own expense to children in Kutno, Poland.

Source: The St. Louis Cardinals
Though Musial left the playing field, he never left his fans. He stayed put in his adopted city, lending his good name to good causes -- from Old Newsboys Days and the Easter Seal Society to the current fundraising campaign to renovate the Soldiers Memorial. Ask St. Louisans about Stan the Man, and they might tell you about the time they shook his hand in a restaurant or heard him play his harmonica with members of the St. Louis Symphony.

Musial is baseball's oldest living superstar, a goodwill ambassador who connects present to past with grace and charm and humility. He has lived up to the title "baseball's perfect knight,'' bestowed on him by commissioner Ford Frick at his retirement ceremony. And he can still bring down the house with one smooth swing of his air-bat on Opening Day at a new Busch Stadium that hosted its first game 43 years after he quit playing.

In more recent years, Musial sightings have been fewer, though he was back on the field for this season's home opener and last summer's All-Star game, where he handed the ball to President Obama for the first pitch.

The Man will be 90 on Nov. 21, and his legend is still as solid as the bronze statues that stand in his honor outside the stadium, which is two stadiums removed from his field of play: old Sportsman's Park. Affection and respect for Musial are a trans-generational tradition that topped off a century and spilled over into a new millennium.

Watermon says the "Stand for Stan" campaign is as much about showing Musial how much the fans still care about him as it is about the presidential medal.

"What's most exciting from the club's perspective is that this is really about engaging our fans and celebrating Stan Musial and demonstrating the breadth and the depth of the affinity and affection our fans have for the greatest Cardinal of all time," he said.

'We'll miss you, Stan'

Watermon's point about Musial's civic contributions is obvious to anyone looking through the files of old St. Louis Globe-Democrat photographs in the archives of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. For every picture of Musial on the playing field, there is one of him visiting sick children at a local hospital or pitching in during a charity fund drive.

Musial was a new grandfather by the time he retired from baseball, but he was still a contributing force in the Cardinals late-season drive to win the pennant that year. Even after the emotional retirement ceremony before his last game, Stan the Man got two hits in a 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

That last game took 14 innings, with Musial's day ending in the sixth. After he drove in Curt Flood with career hit No. 3,630 -- his last -- Cardinals manager Johnny Keane sent Gary Kolb in to pinch-run for his retiring star.

It was 3:47 p.m., noted Jack Herman, who covered the game for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and the spectators weren't pleased.

"They didn't want their hero ever to leave," Herman wrote.

Musial needed a police escort through the crowd of devoted fans waiting to witness his final departure from the stadium. There was a message written across the windshield of his car: "We'll miss you, Stan."

Although Cardinals fans have long complained that after his playing career ended, Musial didn't get the national acclaim he deserved, he certainly got his share during the waning weeks of the 1963 season following his retirement announcement on Aug. 12.

In city after city, opposing teams and their fans honored "The Man" as he played in their stadiums for the last time. In San Francisco and Cincinnati, he was presented with rocking chairs. In Chicago, he was given a shotgun, a $100 savings bond for his new grandson and an official citation from Mayor Richard Daley naming him an honorary citizen of the Windy City.

"If I had known we would have made the pennant bid we did and what was going to happen on my final swing around the league, I never would have announced my retirement when I did," Musial told a Globe-Democrat reporter.

Dave J. Grote, the National League's public relations director, estimated that Musial's absence in 1964 "could mean as much as 50,000 admissions."

A team of umpires asked to be photographed with Musial before his last appearance in Cincinnati, in what was believed to be the first time umpires posed with an active player. Their reason? The gentleman ballplayer had never been thrown out of a game.

A medal for Musial

Although various individuals -- including at least one Facebook site -- claim credit for starting the drive to get Musial a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Watermon says it was Missouri Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond who got the ball rolling in the Cardinals front office.

Watermon said a Bond staffer called him with the idea in November 2008, as President George W. Bush was preparing to leave office.

"He kind of led the charge, and time ran out," Watermon said. "It was November, and the president was leaving office in January. And so we went ahead and reached out to Sen. [Dick] Durbin in Illinois and Sen. [Claire] McCaskill to have them reach out to the new president.''

The team's efforts remained below the radar until Watermon took the idea of a public campaign that would engage fans to Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III. They put together a comprehensive nomination packet and sent it to the White House in March stressing that Musial should be considered for the medal for his baseball achievements, as well as his civic and charitable efforts.

"Throughout his life, Stan has never sought recognition for his good works. His happiness comes from doing the right thing and bringing joy to others," wrote Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. in his nominating letter. "While Stan does not know of our efforts to nominate him for this honor, we respectfully request your consideration as Stan has been a true role model -- exemplifying the humility, grace and generosity we so desperately need to see in our American sports heroes.''

Also included were letters from the current Cardinals team and former players, Bond, McCaskill, Durbin, Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay.

Since May, the Cardinals have been using a combination of social media to promote the campaign, which they officially launched on Twitter. The website includes a variety of interactive options, including a Flat Stanley-like promotion. (Flat Stanley first starred in a series of children's books by Jeff Brown in the 1960s and has since inspired a host of children's educational projects.)

Fans can print out a "flat" Stan the Man cartoon by St. Louis Post-Dispatch artist Dan Martin and then pose with it and upload it to the site. So far, there are pictures taken from across the United States and at famous landmarks abroad.

"We've seen Flat Stan at the Eiffel tower and holding up the leaning tower of Pisa. He's on Mount Rushmore," Watermon said.

In an email, Bond said he is thrilled that the Cardinals have taken up the medal effort, and he will continue to work with them to make it happen. He recently posed with a few Democratic and Republican senators holding a "Flat Stan" to show that it is a bipartisan campaign.

"Stan the Man played the game of baseball like no person before him and no person since, inspiring decades of players and fans with his brilliance, grace and consistency," Bond said. "I can't think of a more deserving Missourian. He dedicated 22 years to the game of baseball and every year since to public service making Stan not only a legendary player, but a true American hero."

So far, there has been no word from Obama's staff about the campaign, but Musial has gotten in on the fun, recently posing with members of his family and "Flat Stan."

Watermon said that he has not heard of this type of campaign ever being waged before for a Medal of Freedom.

"I tell my conservative friends we're going rogue; I tell my liberal friends it's the audacity of hope," he said.

'The linking of generations'

Watermon says that the campaign has a couple of things going for it: Obama is a baseball fan, and he met Musial at last year's All-Star game.

"We know he's got a lot on his plate," Watermon said. "But this is more about celebrating Stan. And that is what is so beautiful about this campaign. Baseball probably more than any other sport is about the linking of generations. There are grandparents who remember seeing Stan Musial play baseball and have never heard of Flat Stanley. There are children who are familiar with Flat Stanley but not with Musial."

The goal, Watermon said, is to bring generations of baseball fans together to celebrate the greatest Cardinal to play the game.

"We would also very much like for the president of the United States to honor Stan with the Medal of Freedom because we think he's deserving of it, but that's one of the things that's beyond our control," Watermon said. "This is a guy who is so deserving in so many ways; we hope to have a little fun this summer to celebrate him. And when he turns 90 in November we can look back at all the different photos and see how far Flat Stan the Man has traveled."

Past medalists

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America's highest civilian honor. Originally established by President Harry S Truman, it was later resurrected by President John F. Kennedy. The medal has gone to politicians, educators, activists, inventors, entertainers and sports figures. Here is a list of baseball players who have gotten the medal:

  • Ted Williams (1991)
  • Jackie Robinson (1984)
  • Joe DiMaggio (1977)
  • Buck O'Neil (2006)
  • Hank Aaron (2005)
  • Roberto Clemente (2003)
  • Frank Robinson (2005)

2009 medalists

President Barack Obama presented the medal to 17 recipients last year:

  • Pedro Jose Greer Jr.
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Jack Kemp
  • Edward Kennedy
  • Billie Jean King
  • Joseph Lowery
  • Joe Medicine Crow
  • Nancy Goodman Brinker
  • Harvey Milk
  • Sandra Day O'Connor
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Chita Rivera
  • Mary Robinson
  • Janet Davidson Rowley
  • Desmond Tutu
  • Muhammad Yunus

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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