By William Nack
January 20, 2013
No one in the annals of the game knew young talent like the Mahatma, as Rickey was known. He saw the kind of potential in young Musial that he one day would see in Jackie Robinson, when he was general manager of the Dodgers and sought to integrate baseball; in a minor league outfielder in Montreal named Roberto Clemente, whom he shamelessly picked from the Dodgers' pocket after he left Brooklyn for Pittsburgh; and in an aspiring young shortstop named Bill Mazeroski, whom he saw turn a few plays at second base, also when he was general manager of the Pirates. "Don't move him," Rickey told Maz's coaches. "He stays at second." The Mahatma thus launched Maz on a career that turned him into a fielder baseball historian Bill James has called "probably the greatest defensive player of all time."
In his 2000 edition of Baseball Abstract, James put Musial behind Babe Ruth (1), who was followed in order by Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Oscar Charleston, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson and Josh Gibson. Musial was next, directly ahead of such indubitable lights as Tris Speaker (11), Hank Aaron (12), Joe DiMaggio (13) and Lou Gehrig (14), with Mike Schmidt (21), Rogers Hornsby (22) and Frank Robinson (24) further back.
This unwarranted neglect has become manifest at the game's grassroots. When Sports Illustrated had fans pick a 20th century all-star team at the end of the millennium, they voted Musial 10th among outfielders. ESPN television failed to put him among the top 50 athletes of the 20th century. When MasterCard and professional baseball assembled their All-Century team in 1999, the voting masses virtually ignored Musial; ultimately, an "oversight committee" slipped him onto the roster.
No swilling beer from a bucket for Musial. No swallowing hot dogs in two bites, no open roadsters, no raccoon coats.
Lillian and Stanley were married five years later -- on his 19th birthday, Nov. 21, 1939 -- when he was making $65 a month pitching for the Cardinals' Class D minor league team in Williamson, W.Va. At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Musial always had been able to hit the ball, a skill he had been practicing since he was a boy. "I learned to hit with a broomstick and a ball of tape, and I could always get that bat on the ball," he said.
Musial had 20 hits in 47 at-bats that month, including four doubles and a home run, and ended up hitting .426. He went 6-for-10 in a double-header against the Cubs, leaving Chicago manager Jimmy Wilson to wonder aloud, "Nobody can be that good." Also during that month, the Cards visited the Braves in Boston, and after they left town, the Dodgers showed up, on their way to winning the pennant. Casey Stengel, then the Braves' manager, greeted the Brooklyn writers with this: "Your fellas will win it, but those Cardinals got a young kid in left field that you guys are gonna be writin' about for 20 years."
Before doubleheaders, shirtless and dressed in only his flannel pants, he would walk around the Cards' clubhouse squeezing the handle of his bat and saying, to no one in particular, "Stanley could have 10 hits today. It is possiblefor Stanley to have 10 hits. Ten hits for Stanley!" In fact, in one doubleheader, he hit a record six home runs.
His baseball prowess aside, Musial was first all-time in decency, affability and charm. He had endless patience for signing autographs, and if he happened to spot a table of little old ladies at a restaurant, celebrating someone's 80th, he would pull from a pocket his well-used harmonica and serenade them with a chorus of "Happy Birthday." He would follow this with a few bars of "The Wabash Cannonball" and finish the show by playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."