Musial’s historic 1948 season nets him third NL MVP

Written by: Craig Muder

In 1948, Stan Musial came within one home run of what would have arguably been the most successful season ever by a major league hitter.

But even without a Triple Crown, Musial was still the king of the National League.

On Dec. 2, 1948, Musial – the Cardinals’ slugging outfielder – was named the NL’s MVP in convincing fashion, outdistancing runner-up Johnny Sain of the Braves by 80 points and 13 first-place votes. The Cardinals finished six-and-a-half games behind the Braves in the NL pennant race that year, but Musial’s dominance undoubtedly impressed the voters of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, who named Musial the NL MVP for a record-setting third time.

“I thought I had a chance because I had a pretty good year,” Musial told the St. Louis Star & Times. “But it looked to me like Johnny Sain probably would get it.

“It’s quite a distinction for any player.”

The 27-year-old Musial led the league in runs (135), hits (230), doubles (46), triples (18), RBI (131), batting average (.376), on-base percentage (.450), slugging percentage (.702), OPS (1.152) and total bases (429). Ralph Kiner of the Pirates and Johnny Mize of the Giants paced the NL with 40 home runs apiece, with Mize moving into a tie with Kiner in New York’s final game of the season on Oct. 3.

Musial had hit No. 39 in the first game of a doubleheader on Sept. 30 to pull within one home run of Kiner, but Musial failed to homer in any of St. Louis’ final four games.

The Triple Crown eluded Musial during his stellar career, but his 1948 campaign may have been better than any of the 15 modern era seasons (authored by 13 different players) which resulted in a Triple Crown. Of those seasons, only the 1901 campaign by the Athletics’ Nap Lajoie and Hornsby’s 1922 season with the Cardinals featured the player leading his league in at least 10 of the 11 categories above.

Musial recorded a hit in 121 of the 155 games he played in 1948, including four games where he recorded five hits apiece. Only Ty Cobb (1922), Tony Gwynn (1993) and Ichiro Suzuki (2004) had seasons with as many as four games with five hits apiece.

Musial started hot and maintained his pace deep into the summer, hitting .415 as late as July 7 before an August “slump” – a month when he hit a season-low .348 – ended any chance at the .400 mark. But his incredible .416 average against left-handed pitching and a .415 average on the road made Musial seem like he was in a league by himself.

“I’ll tell you a strange thing: I can’t seem to hit well in St. Louis,” Musial told the Pittsburgh Press late in the season. “Someone told me the other day I was hitting .300 there (Musial finished the season with a .334 average at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park) and the only reason I can think of for my slump at home is too much night ball.”

The numbers, however, did not support that theory. Musial hit .402 in 64 night games in 1948.

Musial would not win a fourth NL MVP during his final 15 seasons in the big leagues – but no one could have come closer. From 1949-51, Musial finished second in the MVP vote in every season, finishing just 38 points behind Jackie Robinson in 1949. Musial finished in the runner-up position for the fourth time in 1957, nine points shy of Hank Aaron.

His 6.96 MVP award shares – a metric used by Baseball-Reference to measure total MVP votes – is second all-time behind Barry Bonds, who won seven NL MVPs.

Musial was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.

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

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