July 19, 2008


Musial (Joe Posnanski, 7/18/08)

Stan Musial never got thrown out of a game. Never. Think about this for a moment. Musial played in 3,026 games in his career, or about as many as his contemporaries Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky played combined. He played across different American eras — he played in the big leagues before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, and he retired a few weeks before Kennedy was shot. He played when Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller ruled the Top 40 charts, and he played when Elvis was thin, and he played when Chubby Checker twisted. He played before television, and after John Glenn orbited the earth. And he never once got thrown out of a baseball game. [...]

Joe Black used to tell a story — he was pitching against the Cardinals, and as usual the taunts were racial. “Don’t worry Stan,” someone in the Cardinals dugout shouted, “with that dark background on the mound you shouldn’t have any problem hitting the ball. Musial kicked at the dirt, spat, and faced Black like he had not heard anything. But after the game, Black was in the clubhouse, and suddenly he looked up and there was Stan Musial. “I’m sorry that happened,” Musial whispered. “But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.”

Chuck Connors, the Rifleman, used to tell a story — he was a struggling hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 1951. He asked teammates what he should do. They all told him the same thing: The only guy who can save you is Musial. So Connors went to Musial and asked for his help. Musial spent 30 minutes at the cage with an opposing player. “I was a bum of a hitter just not cut out for the majors,” Connors said. “But I will never forget Stan’s kindness. When he was finished watching me cut away at the ball, Stan slapped me on the back and told me to keep swinging.”

Ed Mickelson only got 37 at-bats in the Big Leagues, but he has a story too. Musial invited him to dinner — he was always doing that stuff — and there Mickelson explained that he felt so nervous playing ball, that he could hardly perform. Musial leaned over and said quietly, “Me too, kid. Me too. When you stop feeling nervous, it’s time to quit.”

Well, there are countless stories like that, stories about Musial’s common decency and the way he could make anyone around him feel like he was worth a million bucks.

“Musial treated me like I was the Pope,” Mickelson said, and he was still in awe more than 50 years later.

Those were the emotions Musial inspired in his time. He was so beloved in New York, that the Mets held a “Stan Musial Day.” In Chicago, he once finished first in a “favorite player” poll among Cubs fans, edging out Ernie Banks. Bill Clinton and Brooks Robinson, growing up about an hour apart in Arkansas, were inspired by him.

Of course, it was mostly the playing. Stan Musial banged out 3,630 hits even though he missed a year for the war. He hit .331 for his career, banged 1,377 extra base hits (only Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have hit more), stretched out more than 900 doubles and triples (only Tris Speaker has more) and played in 24 All-Star Games. He had that quirky and unforgettable swing, that peek-a-boo stance, and he probably inspired more famous quotes by pitchers than any other hitter.

Preacher Roe (on how to pitch Musial): “I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off first base.”

Carl Erskine (on how to pitch Musial): “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him best pitch and
backing up third.”

Warren Spahn: “Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy.”

Don Newcombe: “I could have rolled the ball up there to Musial, and he would have pulled out a golf club and hit it out.”

And so on. Maybe pitchers felt in awe because there seemed no way to pitch him, no weaknesses in swing, fastballs up, curveballs away, forkballs in the dirt, he hit them all. In 1947, he had his most famous season, his season for the ages, .376 average, 46 doubles, 18 triples, 39 home runs, 135 runs, 131 RBIs. And yet, the thing about Musial, is that for more than 20 years he was pretty much always like that. Four other times he hit better than .350. Four other times he hit more than 46 doubles. He hit double digit triples eight times in all, he hit 30-plus homers five times, he walked more than twice as often as he struck out.

I suspect Musial can never be reflected in numbers because his resume is so all encompassing — it’s like Bob Costas said, he never hit in 56 straight games, and he did not hit 500 home runs (never hit 40 in a season), and he did not get 4,000 hits, and he did not hit .400 in any year. He was, instead, present, always, seventeen times in the Top 5 in batting average, sixteen times in the Top 5 in on-base percentage, thirteen times in the Top 5 in slugging percentage, nine times the league leader in runs created. To me, the best description of Musial through his stats is to say that 16 times in his career Musial hit 30 or more doubles. It might not make for a great movie. But all his baseball life Stan Musial hit baseballs into gaps and he ran hard out of the box.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 19, 2008 12:39 PM

Despite having 5 major league teams within 225 miles of my Vermont hometown, as a lad I favored the Cards ... 1000 miles to the West, and out of radio range ... because of Musial.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 19, 2008 1:13 PM

3,630 hits. 1815 in St. Louis, 1815 on the road. Williams was still the better hitter, though.

Posted by: h-man at July 19, 2008 1:42 PM

How sad that decency, courtesy to opponents and respect for officials are newsworthy.

A further comment on that crack about the Black pitcher. We should be troubled that a neutral remark about a person's color was considered a slur. I submit that reacting to neutral racial remarks as though they were per se slurs is a sort of inividious discrimination itself.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 19, 2008 5:55 PM

You are what you tolerate.

Posted by: oj at July 19, 2008 7:15 PM

I was in a bar in Baltimore and some chucklehead argued that Musial was overrated...

It will not shock anyone here to know that everyone else in the bar thought he was an idiot.

This was in the infancy of the internet, and it was in real life, but still and all, that doof may have been the first troll.

Posted by: Benny at July 19, 2008 7:42 PM

...seventeen times in the Top 5 in batting average...

Wow! That's impressive.

A college buddy of mine was from St. Louis and he went to the same church as Stan the Man. He saw him every Sunday.

Posted by: pchuck at July 19, 2008 7:57 PM

The very first Major League baseball game I ever attended, 1961 SF Giants vs. Cards. And only because I'd get to see Stan and Willie on a sunlight SF afternoon!

Posted by: Mike at July 19, 2008 10:08 PM
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