[Originally published January 15, 2011.]
We’ve come to believe that character comes with quirks, that you can’t achieve without eccentricity, arrogance, or some type of peculiarity. If that’s true, though, how do you explain Stan Musial? An extraordinary ball player, he is generally known as an all-around nice guy, a baseball hero who’s a decent, likeable person. One sports writer has called him one of the last untarnished icons in baseball history.
Late in 2010, the White House announced it would present the 90-year-old Musial with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honor.
The Post dedicated a fair amount of print to “the man,” and from a 1942 article called “Rookie of the Year” to an editorial announcing the approach of his last game, we covered the professional and personal side of this beloved baseball player.
Post writer Furman Bisher gave readers a glimpse of a nonchalant but confident champ.
Opening day had drifted into night, the St. Louis Cardinals had defeated New York’s pre-eminently defeatable Mets and now, at Toots Shor’s restaurant Stan Musial was sitting at a big table talking baseball,” wrote Furman Bisher for the Post in May 1963. “‘Yeah,’ he was telling Joe E. Lewis, the comic, and Shor, the proprietor, ‘we got a pretty good club. Good club, you know?’ Then someone who had not been in the stands for the 25th opening day, in the incredible career of Stanley Frank Musial, approached, ‘Get any hits, Stan?’ the stranger asked.
A look of mild surprise crossed Musial’s sharp features, ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘Of course, I got one.’ It was, Musial seemed to be hinting, a rather foolish question. Get any hits. Stan? Got any girls’ phone numbers in this town, Mr. Sinatra?
In the quarter century since he became a professional, Stan Musial has made 3,545 major-league hits, including his opening-day single against the Mets. That’s what he does better than anyone else in his time—make hits. They come so regularly and Musial treats them with such outward nonchalance that anyone might think they were routine. But Musial is now 42 years old. There is absolutely nothing routine about a 42-year-old man slugging a baseball that has come hurtling toward him at 95 miles an hour.
The Post article, “The Mystery of Stan Musial” from 1954 discussed the myth that “the only interesting thing about him is his ball playing.” Despite the fact that he was the highest-paid player in National League history “fans know less about what he’s really like than they do about most colorful rookies.” That salary, by the way, was $80,000 a year.
One reason he was a mystery was simple: he wasn’t a troublemaker.
He has not disregarded training rules with the reckless abandon of a Babe Ruth, once fined $5,000 for failure to keep in shape. He has not feuded with sports writers and spectators in the manner of a Ted Williams. He has not held himself aloof with the intriguing moodiness of a Joe DiMaggio.” This is not to say he isn’t interesting, however. Writer Bob Broeg described him as “a bright-eyed, lighthearted thirty-three-year-old businessman who laughs heartily at all jokes, including his own, performs parlor magic tricks with a professional patter and thrives on everyday living.
If the Presidential Medal of Freedom is our greatest civilian honor, perhaps the greatest honor from The Saturday Evening Post was having your picture painted by one of our cover artists. Some of the fans in this 1954 cover are friends of artist John Falter, and some were lucky St. Louis kids the artist managed to get excused from school to pose with Stan the Man Musial. Said the editors, “Imagine how lucky those St. Louis models felt when they wound up with 40 revered Musial autographs. ‘Wow!’ one said in awe. ‘Will we clean up selling these at school!’” Ah, youth.
By our 1958 article “A Visit With Stan Musial,” the Cardinal veteran was considered baseballs $100,000-a-year-man. Very much the family man, he was devoted to St. Louis.
“At times baseball men have said to me, ‘If you’d been in New York or out East, with all the big publicity, you’d have made more money and everything”, Musial said. “But I always say I don’t see how I could have. I’ve been with a good organization here in St. Louis, we’ve general had winning teams. … I’ve been paid very well. My press in St. Louis has been terrific. My wife likes it even better than I do, if possible.”
The affection was mutual. In a 1957 Post article (“Baseball’s Got Me!” May 18, 1957), Cardinals’ owner, August (Gussie) A. Busch, Jr. described Musial as a close friend.
“After we wound up taking over the Cardinals, I continued to hunt and fish with Stan and enjoyed his company. Some baseball people didn’t think that was proper. They suggested that our relationship be changed. They advised me that a president of a team shouldn’t socialize with a player.
“I can’t think of anything in my baseball experience which bothered me more than that. I fretted about it enough to regret my investment in the team. I had begun to learn there are special ways in baseball, and I’d made up my mind to conform, but in this case I was unwilling to go along. I refused to sit still for the idea that my new position could put fetters on my personal relationships.
“For one thing, I knew Musial as a fine man and a wonderful companion. For another thing, shortly after we acquired the Cardinals, I’d make a trip around the National League with the team, and it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I was amazed at Stan’s contact with the fans and their feelings toward him. Wherever he went, people gathered about him. Stan always did the right thing and said the right thing at the right time. I determined right then that any organization was lucky to have such a man in its employ. He was an asset to the uniform.”
Harry T. Paxton wrote “A Visit Stan Musial” for the Post the following year (1958) and noted “although Musial doesn’t make inflammatory statements, this isn’t because he’s afraid to say what he thinks for publication.”
In his own level-headed way, Stan spoke his mind as freely as any pop-off artist, giving forthright appraisals of other leading ballplayers and opinions on a variety of topics. When it came to his pet specialty of hitting, Musial was fascinatingly expressive. He went into fine points I hadn’t known even existed. Maybe some of them don’t exist for the average big-league hitter.
In September 1963, this Post editorial ran:
One day before this month ends, the familiar figure will come up to bat for the last time.
With that appearance Stan (The Man) Musial, by his own decision, sill bring to a close one of baseball’s classic careers. He came up to the St. Louis Cardinals before Pearl Harbor, in the summer of 1941. Since then, with time out for service in the Navy, he has broken more records than any other player in the history of baseball. He holds 17 major-league, 30 National League and nine All-Star records.
Everyone who follows big-league baseball closely has his own recollection of Stan the Man. Ours is an afternoon in 1948 at Ebbets Field, a ball park that he practically owned for many years. He went five for five that day, and every time he made a hit, he had two strikes on him. One day in 1954 he hit five home runs in a doubleheader against the Giants in St. Louis. That was probably the peak of his career.
As he bows out, we wish him well, and we extend our sympathy to those who never saw him play. Watching him in action was a treat that will not be matched.” (“The Man Bows Out”, September 21, 1963)