Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stan the Man

I did not know Stan Musial was Catholic, but remember well what a great ballplayer he was.

This recent story in the American Spectator notes his 90th birthday [November 21, 2010] and he still lives in St. Louis with his wife of 71 years.

An excerpt.

“Happily, the good don't always die young. This Sunday, God willing, Stan "The Man" Musial, who was not only one of baseball's greatest hitters but one of the nicest guys to ever wear cleats, will turn 90. He lives independently with Lillian, his bride of 71 years, in St. Louis where they are beloved.

“The St. Louis Post-Dispatch plans extensive coverage of Stan's 90th this weekend, as well it should. Red Sox Nation and Fenway fanatics may get more coverage nationally. But there are also plenty of savvy baseball fans in St. Louis, home of a venerable and successful franchise in the Cardinals. Stan is remembered and revered here, even though it has been 47 years since Stan ended his career at Busch Stadium with a sharp, RBI single to right Sept. 29, 1963 against Jim Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds.

“Long-time Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel, who knows as much about the Cardinals and The Man as anyone, told me that neither of the Musials is suffering from any debilitating ailments. Stan still gets out, he said, though less often than in the past and sometimes with the help of a cane. He even makes it to his natural habitat, the ballpark, from time to time. Good thing. Somebody has to give Albert Pujols hitting tips.

"Everybody here still knows who Stan is," Hummel said. "The fans go nuts every time he appears at the ball park." Few players have the numbers and the gravitas to presume to advise the great Albert on hitting. But Stan certainly does. Between September of 1941 and the end of the 1963 season, with 1945 off in the U.S. Navy, Stan compiled a .331 lifetime batting average on 3,630 hits, including 475 home runs. He drove in 1,951 runs while winning seven batting titles and being chosen as the league's most valuable player three times.

“Musial, not streaky or prone to slumps, was consistent with his gaudy numbers. He hit .336 against right-handers and .323 against lefties. He hit .336 at home and .326 on the road. He had 1,815 hits both at home and on the road.

“Musial put his Hall of Fame career together with a combination of God-given talent, hustle, and considerable baseball smarts. His head was always in the game. With superb coordination, sharp reflexes and eye sight, he made hitting look easy. He was rarely fooled by a pitch. When he was he was usually quick enough to adjust and still hit the pitch….

“Stanislaw Franciszek Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania, a small industrial town 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, to Lukasz and Mary Musial. Zinc miner Lukasz was just eight years in America from Poland. Mary was a first-generation Czech-American. Lukasz gave his oldest son the nickname Stashu.

“Baseball fame and success as a restaurateur and real estate investor made Musial a rich man before he was 40, but he never acted the big star. He was always solicitous of others, and treated stars, fans, the club house guy, waitresses, and the scrub player hitting .204 and destined for a career in used car sales just the same, respectfully. Even after he had won three MVP awards his home phone number was still listed in the St. Louis directory.

“For baseball and business reasons Musial moved from Donora to St. Louis. But he didn't leave his home town behind, returning often, including for his high school reunions. He remained Stashu to the people he came up with, who he never abandoned after he became The Man.

“He never abandoned his Catholic faith either. He's regularly attended mass all his life, including on the road as a player. Musial has lived his long life with considerable grace. A class act, we might be tempted to say. But all the evidence shows that Musial's quiet charisma isn't and has never been an act.”