On Tuesday afternoon May 13, 1958, in the top of the sixth inning at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field, Stanley Frank Musial was announced as a pinch-hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals. Musial was only one hit shy of a Major League Baseball milestone, 3,000 career hits — only seven players had ever entered that exclusive club, and no one since 1942. Ideally, Musial would have loved to break into the 3000-hit club before the adoring St. Louis fans, but if anything best epitomized his career, it was that he was a team player not focused on individual plaudits. With St. Louis down 3-1 with a runner on second base, Musial stepped in as the potential tying run.
Young Cubs right-handed Moe Drabowsky — coincidentally born in Poland where Musial’s father hailed from — peered in for the sign. Musial took his unique stance in the left-handed hitter’s batter box, once described by pitcher Ted Lyons as like “a little boy peeking around the corner to see if the cops are coming.” On a 2-2 pitch from Drabowsky, Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray delivered his characteristically ebullient call: “Line drive! Into left field! His number three thousand! A run has scored. Musial around first, on his way to second with a double. Holy cow! He came through!” On his first try at 3,000, Musial showed the true mark of a champion rising to pressure.
The moment after Musial hit 3,000, bedlam broke out on the field. Pitchers in the bullpen, where Musial had been tanning himself earlier in the game, ran out to embrace him. Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson came running out from the dugout to hug his star.
The train ride back to St. Louis was memorable. As George Vecsey notes in his biography, Stan Musial: An American Life, winning pitcher Sam Jones, whom Musial had pinch hit for, presented him with a magnum of champagne. Harry Caray presented Musial with a gift from all the broadcasters, commemorative gold cufflinks with a 3,000 logo. The Illinois Central Railway company provided a big cake with “3,000” in Cardinal-red icing on the top. It would be the last time that the Cardinals took this route; airplane travel had become a necessity as San Francisco and Los Angeles had just entered the National League.
The train was supposed to arrive in St. Louis shortly after 11 p.m., but it was delayed because jubilant fans were pouring out at local stops along the train’s route. At the Clinton, Illinois station, about 50 Cardinal devotees clamored for their hero, shouting: “We Want Musial! We Want Musial!” He waved from the back of the train and stretched out to give autographs. The celebration grew larger when the Cardinals arrived in the Illinois state capital in Springfield. More than 100 fans started singing, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Musial came out of the dining car to greet and sign for the fans on the platform.
When Musial re-entered the train, he must have thought about another Springfield in Missouri, where in 1941, playing for the Cardinals’ Class C Minor League Affiliate, he mastered the art of hitting after failing earlier in his minor league career as a pitcher. Warm memories flooded back of the good times he had enjoyed in Springfield. As recounted in delicious detail by biographer James Giglio in Musial: From Stash to Stan The Man, he remembered how he instructed the bat boy, “Give me a bat with a hit in it”; how he peppered line drives off the Coca-Cola and 7-Up signs on the right field wall; how he made acrobatic catches in right field that thrilled the fans and showed that he had learned his lessons well from gymnastics classes taken as a youth; how he had gone fishing with teammates and then headed to a local pool hall where they could follow on ticker tape the scores of major league games.
As Vecsey wrote in his book, when the Cardinals train finally pulled into St. Louis’s Union Station near midnight, more than a half-hour late because of the earlier celebrations, nearly a thousand fans greeted Musial. “I never realized that batting a little ball around could cause so much commotion,” Musial told the crowd on the platform. “I know now how Lindbergh must have felt when he returned to St. Louis.” (Thirty-two years earlier, aviator Charles Lindbergh had piloted his plane “The Spirit of St. Louis” across the Atlantic Ocean and returned home to a hero’s welcome.) Seeing many youngsters up way past their bedtime, Musial quipped, “No school tomorrow!” (Musial’s teenaged daughter Gerry told biographer Vecsey that she remembers her mother driving her to school rather late the next day.)
The celebration was not over. High-ranking team officials and a raft of the Musial family’s close friends headed to Stan and Biggie’s, the restaurant that Musial co-owned with partner Biggie Garagnani. Musial didn’t get home until 3 a.m., but he was fresh enough the next day to hit a home run on his first at-bat for his 3,001st hit. He belted two more hits in a Cardinals victory that extended a winning streak that momentarily gave them hope of pennant contention.
Later Missouri Governor James T. Blair Jr. gave him a special license plate with “3,000” on it. Tris Speaker and Paul Waner, two of the still-living members of the 3,000-hit-club, joined the occasion. (The other living members, Ty Cobb and Napoleon Lajoie, were too ill to attend, and Cap Anson, Eddie Collins, and Honus Wagner were no longer alive.)
Looking back at how the Midwest poured out to celebrate Stan Musial’s 3,000th hit, it brings to mind President Harry Truman’s whistle stop train rides ten years earlier. A native of Independence, Missouri and an underdog in the 1948 presidential race, Truman took trains all over the country, stopping in many small towns, speaking from railway platforms to excited admirers, and ultimately winning a surprise victory over Republican candidate Thomas Dewey in November.
As a native of a heavily Democratic town near Pittsburgh, Musial had been happy for Truman’s come-from-behind triumph, but during the 1950s he supported President Dwight Eisenhower. Come 1960, however, Musial enthusiastically supported John F. Kennedy, whom he had met the year before; as Vecsey recounts, Kennedy had impressed him with his youth and energy. “They tell me you’re too old to play ball, and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we’ll both fool them,” quipped Kennedy, who at 43 was only three-and-a-half years older than Musial.
Musial retired at the end of the 1963 season with awe-inspiring statistics: career batting average of .331, 475 home runs, 1,951 runs batted, 1,949 runs scored, and 3,630 hits, second at the time only to Ty Cobb and second only to Babe Ruth in total extra-base hits. “If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated,” goes the perceptive sports adage. No greater testimony to Stan the Man’s steady performance can be found than in how his 3,630 hits were divided: 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road. He appeared in a record-tying 24 All-Star games and still holds the record for most home runs in the Midsummer Classic.
It was disappointing that after winning three World Series in his first four full seasons, Musial and the Cardinals never returned to the Fall Classic after 1946. But it was no surprise when in 1969 he was elected on the first ballot to the National Baseball Hall of Fame garnering over 93 percent of the vote. He became a fixture at future Hall of Fame ceremonies, his beloved harmonica in his pocket and ready to be used at the drop of a hat. According to Derrick Goold at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, one year he serenaded the crowd with a serviceable version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Unfortunately, in recent years Musial has slipped from memory as one of the all-time greats. Playing outside the major media markets didn’t help his marketability. The departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles may have also dulled his reputation. Brooklyn fans had given Musial his nickname “Stan The Man” because of how he wrecked the home team with his bat year after year.
But to those who came of age in mid-20th century America, especially in the heartland, Stan Musial remains a paragon of excellence. On the day he retired, baseball commissioner Ford Frick praised him as “baseball’s perfect warrior . . . baseball’s perfect knight.” Musial biographer James Giglio has called him “a true sportsman and a role model . . . . virtually to all.” Two statues of him grace areas near the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Former President Bill Clinton remembers growing up in Arkansas doing his homework while listening to Musial’s at-bats on the radio. And when President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Musial in 2011, two years before his passing, he extolled him as “an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community.”
Featured image: Saturday Evening Post cover detail, “Stan the Man” by John Falter, from our May 1, 1954, issue (© SEPS)
This article and other features about baseball can be found in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, Baseball: The Glory Years. This edition can be ordered here.
In Jacksonville, Florida, where he carried off almost everything except the franchise during the South Atlantic League baseball season of 1953, there is still a considerable degree of puzzlement about Henry Louis (Hank) Aaron, now one of the mightiest warriors in the tribe of the Milwaukee Braves. There was, for instance, the time in Jacksonville that summer when Aaron was in the grip of a rare batting slump, and one of his teammates asked in clubhouse conversation how he was going to cure it.
“Oh, I called Mr. Stan Musial about it,” was Aaron’s deadpan reply, “and I’m coming out of it.”
“What did Musial tell you to do?” asked the teammate, an in elder named Joe Andrews.
“He said, ‘Keep swinging,’” Aaron said.
Shortly the slump passed and Henry thundered on to a .362 finish. meanwhile the Musial story was repeated often in dugouts around the league. On the day when Aaron got the league’s Most Valuable Player award, manager Ben Geraghty decided it might be well to have Henry repeat his Musial tale to the sports writers who were inquiring into the reasons for his success.
“Man, I never called Stan Musial,” Aaron said, shaking his head vigorously.
“But you told Joe Andrews you did,” Geraghty said.
“I’m liable to tell Joe Andrews anything.”
Spec Richardson, general manager of the Jacksonville Braves, is representative of the perplexed local opinion that Aaron left behind. “Tell you the truth,” he says, “we couldn’t make up our minds if he was the most naive player we ever had or if he was dumb like a fox.”
National League pitchers have long since reached the verdict that there is nothing naive about this 22-year-old out elder when he takes a baseball bat in hand. over the last two and a half seasons in Milwaukee, he has carved out a reputation as probably the best fast-ball hitter in the league, and a man who should be up there among the batting leaders for many years to come.
— “Born to Play Ball” by Furman Bisher, Aug. 25, 1956
[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)