Missing Man

Stan Musial remembered as American icon

January 19, 2013
Hall of Famer Stan Musial giving his induction speech during the 1969 Induction Ceremony. (NBHOF Library)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Stan Musial hit the baseball the wrong way.

Corkscrew stance. Inside-out swing. Off-balance follow-through.

But Stan Musial played baseball the right way. Few who saw the Cardinals’ legend in person thought a better ballplayer existed.

[In Memoriam]

Musial died Saturday evening at the age of 92. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, he remains one of baseball’s iconic heroes.

“Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.” Ford Frick wrote those words, and they’re forever emblazoned on the bronze statue dedicated to Musial in St. Louis.

Almost half a century after his retirement, Musial remains the face of a Cardinals’ franchise he helped turn into a dynasty.

“Stan was a favorite in Cooperstown, from his harmonica rendition of ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ during Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, to the reverence he commanded among other Hall of Fame members and all fans of the game,” said Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark. “More than just a baseball hero, Stan was an American icon and we will very much miss him in Cooperstown.”

Born Nov. 21, 1920 in Donora, Pa., Stanley Frank Musial began his pro baseball career as a left-handed pitcher in 1938 after signing with the Cardinals. In 1940, Musial was 18-5 with Daytona Beach. But while playing the outfield due to a shortage of players, Musial permanently damaged his left shoulder while diving for a ball.

Musial’s manager, Dickie Kerr, suggested that Musial turn to hitting – based on the fact that Musial hit .352 in his part-time outfield duty in 1940. The next year, Musial sailed through the vast Cardinals’ minor league system before hitting .426 in a late-season call-up with St. Louis.

“You could see that his fellow was going to make a lot of money in the big leagues,” said Bucky Walters, who won the 1939 Most Valuable Player Award as a pitcher. “And it wasn’t going to be for stealing bases.”

In 1942, Musial hit .315 as the Cardinals’ everyday left fielder – one of only two times he’d dip under the .320 mark in his first 12 full big league seasons. The Cardinals won the World Series that year, and the next season Musial won his first of three NL Most Valuable Player awards for leading the Cards back to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees.

Musial and the Cardinals captured the World Series again in 1944, and after taking 1945 off to serve in the Navy, Musial won his second MVP in 1946 while leading St. Louis to its third World Series title in five seasons.

He had his greatest offensive season in 1948, hitting a career-high .376 while missing the Triple Crown by just one home run. He won his third and final MVP that year.

The next season, Musial finished second in the MVP voting for the first of three straight seasons and played in his sixth All-Star Game. Over the final 14 years of his career, Musial would play in 18 more All-Star Games (two per season from 1959-62). His 24 All-Star Game selections are more than anyone except Hank Aaron.

“Unless you give it all you’ve got, there isn’t any sense in playing,” Musial said.

And he meant it. He was so incensed with his substandard 1959 campaign – when he hit a career-low .255 – that he asked the Cardinals to slash his salary from $100,000 to $80,000.

He bounced back over the next few years, making a run at the National League batting title in 1962 at the age of 41 before settling for third place with a .330 average – 16 points behind Tommy Davis of the Dodgers. Musial finished his career with seven NL batting championships.

When he retired after the 1963 season, Musial had an NL record 3,630 hits – 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road – which still ranks fourth all-time, and a .331 batting average. His 6,134 total bases still rank second all-time, his 725 doubles rank third and his 1,951 RBIs are sixth.

His 895 consecutive games played from 1952-57 rank eighth on the all-time list, and Musial was the first player to appear in at least 1,000 games at two different positions (outfielder and first base).

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 on his first appearance on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, garnering 93.2 percent of the vote. Between 1937 and 1969, only two players – Bob Feller and Ted Williams – received a higher percentage of the BBWAA vote.

In 2010 Musial was named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, receiving the medal from President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony in 2011.

“If I were starting a ball club, he would be my number one man,” said former Cubs and Dodgers outfielder Andy Pafko.

Few general managers – then or now – would disagree.

“Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game, with his many successes on the diamond, the passion with which he played, and his engaging personality,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “He utilized his trademark corkscrew swing to perfection, torching National League pitching to the tune of seven batting titles and gaudy career numbers. He played so well when the Cardinals visited Ebbets Field, Brooklyn fans dubbed him "The Man", and he was, in every sense. The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum