In the Midwest, before the expansion of baseball to the West Coast, the St. Louis Cardinals
fan base was quite extensive. There were no other teams to root for in that region of the country, save for the Chicago Cubs
or the lowly St. Louis
Browns. And if the Midwest was a kingdom of Cardinal fans, then Stan Musial was, and still is, their king. Stan “the Man” Musial played for 22 National League seasons, filling baseball’s record books with his deeds. Stan Musial won seven batting titles, played in 24 All-Star games, and provided Cardinal faithful with more thrills than anyone could ever ask for.
Stan was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on November 21st, 1920. He was the first son of a Polish immigrant father who was a zinc miner. His mother was of Czech descent. He was the second youngest of six siblings, and as he approached high school age he was already a standout in baseball and basketball. His father Lukasz wanted Stan to avoid the miner’s life at all costs, hoping the boy would attend college. Musial’s C- grades instead pushed him towards a life in baseball. However, it was only when his mother vetoed his father’s attempt to make him go to college that Musial was able to begin his career. He signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals in 1938, and moved up through the organization, as a pitcher.
He went 18-5 in 1940, giving him a 33-13 record over three years. His hitting skills were noticed right away; to get him in the lineup more he played the outfield between pitching starts. At Class D Daytona Beach, in August of 1940, Musial injured his left shoulder so badly while playing the outfield that his pitching days were finished.” My spikes gave way, and I landed on my left shoulder,” Musial recalled. “My arm never did get better. I couldn’t throw hard from then on. It never bothered my hitting. Even if I didn’t hurt my arm, I think somewhere along the line, somebody would have switched me over to outfielder anyway because my hitting was always good.”
Good? In 1941, the left hander batted .426 (20-for-47) as a late-season Cardinal call-up. The next year he became the regular leftfielder and hit .315 at age 21, contributing to the Cardinals first of three consecutive pennants. St. Louis beat the Yankees in the World Series four games to one. Musial’s 1943 campaign established him as a bonafide star, as he hit a league leading .357, with 220 hits, 48 doubles, and 20 triples. He was named National League MVP, but the Cards went down to the Yankees in a rematch of ’42, four games to one. His .347 average in 1944 was second in the league and the Cardinals defeated the cross-town rival Browns, in their one and only World Series, in six games.
Stan Musial served as a seaman first class in the Navy from January 1945 to March of 1946, seeing duty at Pearl Harbor, and completely missing the 1945 baseball season. The war had taken many top notch players from the game for the last few seasons; Musial showed it was not due to inferior pitching that his numbers were so gaudy when he hit .365 and won his second MVP award upon his return in 1946. The Cardinals’ seven game defeat of Boston gave him his third World Series victory, but he would never play in another for the remainder of his career.
His 1948 MVP season may have been his best. Musial led the National League in runs, hits, triples, doubles, batting average, RBI, and slugging percentage. He missed winning the Triple Crown by a single home run, as his 39 were one less than the 40 of Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize. His .376 average was the highest of his career; he would not hit under .300 for seventeen consecutive seasons. He won batting titles in 1950,’51, and ’52, racking up extra base hits along the way. His base running prowess and gap power allowed him to lead the league in triples five times, and he knocked in more than a hundred runs ten different seasons.
On May 2nd, 1954 in St. Louis, Stan Musial put on a power display that had never been seen in baseball’s storied history. He hit five homers in a doubleheader against the Giants, two of them off of Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleballs in the nightcap. Playing in one of his record 24 All-Star games in 1955, he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning. Yogi Berra complained to Stan, “My feet are killing me.” Musial said to the Yankee catcher, “Relax, I’ll have you home in a minute.” On the next pitch, he hit a home run to end the contest!
He hit so well against the Brooklyn Dodgers that the fans in the bleachers would say, “Not that man again! The man just kills us.” This gave rise to his Stan “the Man” moniker that he is still remembered as. Dodger hurler Preacher Roe was asked how he tried to get Musial out by a reporter. “I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off first,” the pitcher explained.
In 1957, at the age of 36, Stan Musial won his last batting title with a .351 average. In 1962, as a 41 year old grandfather, he batted .330. He was named the Sporting News Player of the Decade for the Fifties. When he retired after the 1963 season, Musial held 17 major league records and 29 National League milestones. His consistency was uncanny. He had exactly the same number of hits in home and away games (1,815), and he hit .336 at home and .326 on the road. He batted .340 in games played during the day and .320 at night. He moved to first base from the outfield later on in his career and played over a thousand games there, the first man to play over a thousand games at two positions. When asked the secret of his hitting greatness, Musial once said, “I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider; then, I’d pick up the speed of the ball in the first thirty feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it had crossed the plate.”
Musial wound up with 3,630 hits in over 10,000 at bats for a career batting mark of .331. He struck out less than 700 times in 22 years and knocked in almost 2,000 runs. He is one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game and his number 6 has long since been retired by the Cardinals. He was and is known as a great sportsman and even better person. He never argued with managers or umpires and always wore a smile. He became the St. Louis general manager in 1967, for only one season, but shrewdly acquired Roger Maris from the Yankees, a move that helped the Cardinals to another World Series victory. He was a senior vice president of the Cardinals for over 25 years. He remains active in many business ventures and owns his own restaurant in St. Louis. In 1972 he became the first foreigner to be awarded Poland’s Merited Champion’s Medal. In 1968 the Cardinals dedicated a ten foot tall bronze statue of Stan Musial outside of their home park, Busch Stadium. On the pedestal is the inscription “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”