The Sporting News
January 19, 2013
ST. LOUIS—Baseball and St. Louis lost two of its greatest Saturday.
Earl Weaver grew up in St. Louis.
Stan Musial was St. Louis.
In a town that loves its baseball team as much as any in the land, Musial was the greatest Cardinal of them all. In a 22-year major league career spent solely with the Cardinals, he won three NL MVP Awards and made 20 All-Star teams. He hit .331 with 475 homers and 3,630 hits, the fourth most ever.
The Man was far more than a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was what the Midwest portends to be: kind, humble, hard-working, solid to the core. Believe me, these are more than just the obligatory words that follow the passing of a celebrity. Musial was the unusual man as real as his reputation.
IN PICTURES: The biggest moments of Musial's career
Like many in St. Louis, I have a story to prove it. About 10 years ago—a couple of years after moving to St. Louis—my then-wife was having lunch with her boss in the same restaurant where Musial was dining. Her boss knew Musial well enough to introduce her.
“My husband is named after you,” she told him.
“Anyone who is named after me gets a bat,” he said matter-of-factly.
Her brush with fame made a nice story at dinner that night, then was forgotten. Until two weeks later.
Sure enough, a delivery truck pulled up to the house and out came a cardboard package that looked like a three-foot long shoebox. Inside was pure Adironack ash. No receipt, no note. Neither was needed. The inscription said everything:
“To Stan McNeal,
My namesake —
(signed) Stan Musial, HOF69.”
That bat has hung in my home office since, and has provided me with one of my favorite stories. More than once when I have told it in St. Louis, someone has shared his or her own story about a meeting with The Man. And I know from more than the gleam in their eyes how much it means to them.
I am not from St. Louis, as my folks grew up far from Cardinal Nation. But even without cable, DirecTV or the Internet, Musial’s fame stretched to Central Florida. During the 1940s and ‘50s, baseball fans argued over who was greater, Musial or Ted Williams. My dad and his buddy at the Lakeland Boys’ Club were no different. Eventually, they came to a sound conclusion: Williams was the better hitter, Musial the better ballplayer.
“He was my idol,” my dad told me Saturday night.
He wasn’t the only one who idolized The Man, of course. In my 12 years in St. Louis, a time when the Cardinals have won two World Series and Albert Pujols reigned as the game’s best hitter, there has been no bigger buzz at Busch Stadium than those times when Musial has made an appearance. In recent years, because of declining health, the appearances have decreased and some sadness has been mixed in as Musial would make his way across the field chauffeured in a golf cart.
That sadness was nothing like Saturday night’s. Shortly before 7 o’clock, as word of Musial’s passing was making its way across town, I was tuned in to the St. Louis Billikens’ basketball broadcast when their play-by-play man, long-time St. Louisan Bob Ramsey, came on for the pregame buildup. But first, an emotional Ramsey said, he had some Cardinals news to share.
Then a long pause, so long you wondered if the station’s signal had been lost. But then you knew what was happening. Finally, Ramsey’s sidekick, Earl Austin Jr., was able to share the news. Stan Musial, The Greatest Cardinal, had passed away at 92.
Ramsey’s weren’t the only tears that were shed.