Stan Musial hit the ball the wrong way.
Corkscrew stance. Off-balance follow-through. Inside-out swing.
But Stan Musial played baseball the right way. Few who saw the Cardinals’ legend in person thought a better ballplayer existed. More than half a century after his retirement, Musial remains the face of a Cardinals’ franchise he helped turn into a dynasty.
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. 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, Dickey 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.
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 won 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.
He made a run at the National League batting title in 1962 at the age of 41 before settling for third place with a .330 average, missing out on his eighth NL batting title by 16 points. 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 – and a .331 batting average.
“Unless you give it all you’ve got, there isn’t any sense in playing,” Musial said.
Musial was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969. He passed away on Jan. 19, 2013.