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Cardinal Nation mourns the passing of Stan the Man

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 19, 2013 - “When (Stan) Musial retired, I cried in every national league ballpark in the National League,” said Cardinals sportscaster Jack Buck in the 1988 documentary, "Ball Talk: Baseball's Voices of Summer." “He didn’t cry, but I cried.”

That sentiment from the late Hall of Fame broadcaster reverberates today as baseball fans across the nation mourn the death of Stanley Frank Musial at age 92. Ford Frick, the baseball commissioner at the time of Mr. Musial’s retirement in 1963, called him “baseball’s perfect warrior, baseball’s perfect knight,” words that captured his essence and are engraved on Mr. Musial's statue outside Busch Stadium.

Mr. Musial died Sat., Jan. 19 while in hospice care at his home in St. Louis following a lengthy illness that had included Alzheimer’s disease.

Stan “The Man” Musial, easily the most revered Redbird of all time, led his team to a World Series victory during his rookie year, retired a Cardinal after 22 years as player, and then made St. Louis his home for the rest of his life. Everyone regarded him as a civic treasure.

“We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family,” said Cardinals Chairman William DeWitt Jr., in a statement. “Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history and one of the best players in the history of baseball.”

Mr. Musial died seven months after the death of his wife, Lil, and one day after his longtime friend and former teammate, “Red” Schoendienst, was feted just ahead of his 90th birthday.

Mr. Musial was born Stanislaus Franciszek Musial. Cardinal Nation and fans everywhere came to know him simply as “Stan the Man,” the name bestowed on him by despairing Brooklyn Dodger fans who would loudly groan “Here comes the man!” whenever the much-feared Mr. Musial came to bat.

The late St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter, Bob Broeg, heard the chant during a 1946 game at Ebbets Field and popularized what would become one of the most legendary nicknames in sports.  It wasn’t his first nickname, nor his second, but it’s the one that the world came to know him by.

“I will also remember going with my dad to Sportman's Park to see "Stan the Man" play,” said former U.S. Congressman William “Bill” L. Clay, D-Mo., last night. “Number 6 will live forever in our hearts.

"Stan Musial was not only the ultimate Cardinal, he was as good a man off the field as he was on the field,” Clay added. “Stan Musial brought honor to the Cardinals, to our city and to our nation. I join with all Cardinal fans as we mourn his passing and I extend my deepest sympathies to his wonderful family.”

The Donora Greyhound

The jury is still out on whether Abner Doubleday invented baseball, but it’s certain that somebody had to do it because on Nov. 21, 1920, Stan Musial was born.

He was the fifth child and first son of Mary Lancos Musial and Lukasz Musial’s six children.  The family lived in Donora, Pa., an industrial town 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, along the Monongahela River. His father, a Polish immigrant, and his mother, one generation removed from Czechoslovakia, worked together as teenagers in a local wire mill. The Musial’s fifth child and first son was not destined to join his parents or most of the others in Donora in a mill, zinc plant or blast furnace.

He was the only one of his six siblings – sisters Ida, Victoria, Helen, and Rose, and brother, Ed, who became a minor league outfielder – to complete high school. His parents had dreams of college for “Stashu,” the child whose name they changed to “Stanley Frank” when he entered school.

But Mr. Musial, a natural athlete, dreamt only of baseball. By his mid-teens, he was the batboy during the summer for the Donora Zincs, a semi-professional baseball team. As the U.S. began to ramp up for World War II, young men were being siphoned off and the batboy became a player. In his debut, the left-hander pitched six innings and struck out 13 men. He was Mercury on the bases and soon earned the nickname the “Donora Greyhound.” And he could hit.

"I could always hit," Mr. Musial told the Sporting News in 1997. "I learned to hit with a broomstick and a ball of tape and I could always get that bat on the ball."

Mr. Musial also played one season on the Donora High School baseball team, where one of his teammates was Buddy Griffey, the father and grandfather of baseball greats Ken Griffe, Sr. and Ken Griffe, Jr.

Mr. Musial was also a gifted basketball player, who starred on the Donora High School basketball team. He was offered a basketball scholarship by the University of Pittsburgh, which he declined.

At just 16 years old, Mr. Musial was offered a professional contract by Branch Rickey, the St. Louis Cardinals’ owner. For the next two years, he would split his time between summer baseball in the minor leagues and high school basketball in Donora. In due time, special scoreboards in Donora would keep the home-town faithful posted on every hit Mr. Musial made and a hometown ball field would be named in his honor.

He finished high school in the spring, but he didn’t hang around Donora long enough get his diploma. His future wife, Lillian “Lil” Labash, stood in for him at his graduation. Mr. Musial was tending to what he called his “first love,” baseball.

The big leagues

After the 1939 season, on his 19th birthday, he married Lil, the daughter of the neighborhood grocer in Donora. The following season, Mr. Musial was pitching well in the Florida State League in Daytona Beach and hitting over .300; he played the outfield on the days that he didn’t pitch. While diving for a ball one day, he injured his left shoulder. His days as a pitcher ended. Aware of his versatility, the Cardinals simply moved him to the outfield full time, a move that put him on the fast track to “The Show” -- the majors.

Mr. Musial made his major league debut with the Cardinals during the second game of a doubleheader at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis on Sept. 17, 1941. The Cardinals were in the midst of a pennant race with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite Mr. Musial batting .426 and garnering 20 hits, the Cardinals finished two and a half games behind the Dodgers.

In 1942, Mr. Musial helped the Cardinals to the first of three straight pennants and the World Series. (New-found fame and fortune, however, did not keep him from returning to Donora and his part-time clerking job at his father-in-law’s grocery store.) The following year, he made his first appearance in an All-Star game, the first night game in All-Star history. It was also the year he won his first most valuable player award. 

World War II abruptly interrupted his skyrocketing career.

Mr. Musial spent 14 months in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a seaman 1st class on a ship repair unit in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He kept his skills sharp by playing baseball every afternoon on a baseball team that entertained service personnel. When he returned to the Cardinals in 1946, he became close friends with a new teammate, second baseman and future Cardinals manager, Albert Fred “Red” Schoendienst, who had completed his own military service a year earlier. Schoendienst had joined the Cardinals in 1945 during Mr. Musial’s absence.

Mr. Musial resumed his career right where he left off. He was under contract to the Cardinals for $13,500 (he declined an offer for a five-year, $125,000 contract, plus a $50,000 bonus to join the Mexican League) and was rewarded with a $5,000 raise later in 1946. It was the year he was named MVP for the second time. By mid-May, Mr. Musial was batting .388 and the Cards were on their way to winning a world championship.

He was named MVP for the third time in 1948, becoming the first National League player to win three MVP Awards.

Former catcher Joe Garagiola once said, "(Stan) could have hit .300 with a fountain pen." That hitting ability was partly attributed to an unorthodox stance, dubbed the “corkscrew” which the late pitcher Ted Lyons described as being “like a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops are coming.” It helped him define his own narrow strike zone.

Mr. Musial won seven batting championships and rapped 3,630 base hits. The baseball he hit for his 3,000th base hit, which he recorded on May 13, 1958, at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, is in the Smithsonian Institution. He scored 1,949 runs, amassed 1,951 runs batted in, 1,477 extra-base hits, 475 homeruns, and won seven league batting titles. He left the game with 17 major league, 29 National League and nine All-Star records. He had a lifetime batting average of .331 and three World Series rings. In 21 full seasons, Mr. Musial appeared in 24 All-Star Games (1959-62, two All-Star games were played).

At the 1962 All-Star Game, President John F. Kennedy told the 41-year-old Mr. Musial, to whom he would give a tour of the White House the next day, that they had something in common. The president shared that he was told he was too young to be president and that Mr. Musial was too old to be playing baseball.

“I guess, Mr. President, we fooled them all right,” Mr. Musial said.

Humble, fair and smart

"I was a poor boy who struck it rich in many ways through the wonders of baseball," Mr. Musial said in his autobiography.

He was humble but intent on being paid what he was worth.

When the Cardinals tried to keep his salary down, he fought back by staging several holdouts during spring training, the only negotiating option for players bound by the reserve clause, which tied them to teams for life.

In 1959, he became the National League’s first $100,000 player. But based on his performance that year – he was batting .255 -- Mr. Musial’s salary was cut to $75,000, without complaint from him. But he was determined to prove that he still had several good baseball-playing years in him, and so he did. He finished his career with a .331 batting average.

On Sept. 11, 1963, he hit a home run in his first at bat after becoming a first-time grandfather. It was his final season and on Sept. 29, the feared No. 6 became the first Cardinal to have his number retired. In 1969, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with 96.2 percent of the ballots.

Upon hearing of Mr. Musial’s death, fellow Hall of Famer Willie Mays told ESPN that, for him, it was “a very sad day.”

"I knew Stan very well,” Mr. Mays said. “He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could. Again, a true gentleman on and off the field; I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever."

A bona fide superstar

During his march through baseball history, Mr. Musial became one of he most well known people in the nation, both inside and outside baseball.

He had long been a favorite and friend of Democratic and Republican presidents. In 2002, he was invited to the White House by President George W. Bush to meet the president of Poland.

Sauvé and good-looking, he became a sought-after pitchman. He appeared in radio, television and print ads, touting numerous products, including Chesterfield cigarettes (it was a time when even doctors advertised cigarettes), Wonder Bread (“Good ballplayers need Wonder Bread”) Mennen after shave lotion and Hamms beer.

In 1964, one year into retirement, Mr. Musial was a mystery guest on "What’s My Line?" the television program where a Hollywood panel would guess the occupation of the guest. Mr. Musial kept his answers to a monotone “Yep” and “Nope,” until one of the blindfolded panelists asked if he played for a New York team; he indignantly replied “Nooooooooooo!” Not only did he not stump the panel, they guessed his identity in record time (perhaps the raucous applause when he entered may have given it away). The episode lives on on YouTube.

Mr. Musial even had several songs written about him, including "Can’t Help Lovin’ Stan the Man." Another recounts his life from Donora through his baseball career. The chorus declares “The world is better just by knowing Stan the Man” and ends “He’ll always be remembered by his fans as the good guy who finished first.”

‘Heart and soul of Cardinal baseball'

During the July 14, 2009, All-Star Game in St. Louis, Mr. Musial was introduced as "the heart and soul of Cardinals baseball.” He then delivered the ceremonial first pitch to President Barack Obama. The two were destined to meet again.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill led the successful bi-state, bipartisan congressional lobbying effort on Mr. Musial’s behalf for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S.’s highest civilian medal.

One day after Valentine’s Day in 2011, President Obama handed Mr. Musial the coveted medal, calling him “an icon, untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you would want your kids to emulate."

In a statement today, McCaskill, whose supporters for the medal included U.S. Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo. (not retired), and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Mr. Musial was “a national treasure that St. Louis was happy to share.”

“No one was more deserving of the love and respect that all of us had for the man, our man, Stan the Man, Stan the gentleman,” McCaskill said. “We all send our sympathy to the entire Musial family. There will never be another one like him.”

Durbin attended the medal ceremony and left with something he said he will always treasure: his first baseball glove autographed by Stan Musial.

“In this age of betrayal, it is good to know that the hero of my youth was indeed a genuine and good person, not to mention one of baseball's greatest,” Durbin said.

In an interview with the Beacon just prior to the ceremony, Mr. Musial said simply, "This is the top honor I'm ever going to receive."

A man of many honors

In the 2010 biography, “Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial” by Wayne Stewart, sportscaster Bob Costas said: “All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.”

His excellence and humanity were duly noted many times before he received the Medal of Freedom. Throughout his baseball career and his life, Mr. Musial had been recognized the world over for his contributions to baseball and to the community.

In 2006, he threw out the first pitch in Game 5 of the 2006 World Series and the Cardinals held "Stan the Man" day in his honor on May 18, 2008.

In 1972, he was the first foreigner to receive the Polish government's highest sports award, the Merited Champions Medal, and in 1973, he was the first inductee into the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame and the Polish National Hall of Fame. He was awarded Poland's highest civilian honor, the Cavalier's Cross Order of Merit.

In addition to his Cooperstown enshrinement, he was also inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Hall of Fame and the Hall of Famous Missourians, with a bronze bust permanently displayed in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol. He received his star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1989 in the University City Loop.  

Mr. Musial’s most visible honor is the 10-foot bronze statue of him erected Aug. 4, 1968, on the northeast side of old Busch Memorial Stadium, a stone’s throw from the statue of his friend Schoendienst.

When the new Busch Stadium opened for the 2006 season, the statue, which has served as a meeting place by generations of Cardinals fans, was moved to its present location to continue welcoming them. It now stands in Stan Musial Plaza, just off Stan Musial Drive, on the west side of the stadium.

In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Mr. Musial 10th on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and he was one of 30 players selected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

"I'm extremely grateful for what it (baseball) has given me – in recognition and rewards, thrills and satisfaction, money and memories,” Mr. Musial said in his autobiography.

Life beyond baseball

In 1949, Mr. Musial decided to make St. Louis his home. That year, a story in the September edition of Time magazine noted he had also become a local business owner: “As new co-owner of Stan Musial's & Biggie's Steak House in St. Louis, (Mr. Musial) strolls among the restaurant's potted palms every evening that he is free, smiling shyly at his guests.”

Mr. Musial and his partner, Julius "Biggie" Garagnani, opened their restaurant on Chippewa Street and later moved it to Oakland Avenue. It remained open until 1986.

Immediately upon retirement in 1963, he was named a Cardinals vice president and remained in that position until after the 1966 season. He was named the Cardinals’ general manager prior to the 1967 season, in time to oversee the team's World Series championship.

Mr. Musial was effective in negotiating player contracts and was credited with creating an in-stadium babysitting service so players’ wives could attend games. Despite his successes, when Biggie Garagnani died in June 1967, Mr. Musial decided to spend more time managing his restaurant and other business interests. He stepped down after the 1967 season.

His retirement did not dampen his celebrity. He put his name and his stamp on numerous civic and charitable organizations, particularly those serving children. A frequent visitor to children in hospitals, he was known as baseball’s best ambassador. For 20 years, he chaired the Crippled Children's Society of St. Louis (Easter Seals). He worked on behalf of muscular dystrophy and was everybody’s favorite Old Newsboy.

“A lot of times we would go visit kids in hospitals whenever we were on the road,” Schoendienst once told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He didn’t want publicity for it, and he didn’t do it to seek recognition or humanitarian awards. He just did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. He enjoyed making other people happy and maybe give them a small ray of sunshine to brighten up their lives.”

Mr. Musial served as an honorary member of the board of the St. Louis Rams and as director of the Professional Baseball Players of America. He served on the Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Veterans and on the board of directors of the U.S.O., the Urological Research Foundation and Shelter the Children.

From February 1964 to January 1967, Mr. Musial served as President Lyndon Johnson's physical fitness adviser. He co-chaired the committee planning the 1999 papal visit to St. Louis and met Pope John Paul II at the ecumenical service.

Golf was his second game, but playing harmonica was his second life: He was "a boogie-woogie bug. As a rookie, he said he never had the courage to play his harmonica outside his hotel room. But as the years passed and he mastered his instrument, he became a virtuoso public performer, entertaining at the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony and various charitable events. His harmonica favorite: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," of course.

Perhaps his most memorable harmonica engagements were the two performances at the White House – before and after he received the Medal of Freedom.

“Heaven is now home to the perfect swing, the ready smile, and some darn fine harmonica tunes,” McCaskill said.

Mr. Musial recorded 18 songs that were sold with a harmonica-playing instruction booklet. He performed on the television comedy variety show, "Hee Haw," on Sept. 14, 1985, and throughout the world during his travels.

“The Man” was called on early in 2010 to go to bat for Soldiers Memorial in St. Louis. He quickly agreed to lend his name to the effort to raise $6.6 million for renovation of the memorial that honors World War I veterans.

Always Cardinals baseball

Now, with his passing, Mr. Musial is again being honored and is receiving all the accolades worthy of the man who was “baseball’s perfect knight.”

"Stan Musial always has been and always will be Cardinal baseball," tweeted fellow Cardinals legend and Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith. "A wonderful, kind humanitarian and a blessed life. RIP."

Mr. Musial’s wife, Lil, to whom he was married nearly 72 years, died May 3, 2012.

His survivors include his four children, son Richard Musial (Sharon Edgar), and daughters Gerry Ashley, Janet Schwarze (Marty) and Jean Edmonds (Dave). He is also survived by 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

The Musial family would appreciate donations to Covenant House or a charity of the fan’s choice in the name of Stan Musial. The Cardinals have set up a memorial site around the Musial Statue at Gate 3 at Busch Stadium, which will remain in place until a date yet to be determined.

The team has also set up a webpage to pay tribute to Stan and allow fans to offer condolences to the family.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.
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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