Stan Musial died today at the age of 92. With his death, a piece of the Cardinals has died.
When I was a child I attended my first Cardinals game with my parents, who snapped a picture of me in front of the Stan Musial statue at Busch Stadium. This was my first encounter with the man who is arguably the best Cardinal to ever play the game, which is saying a lot when one considers the talent that has flowed through this city – Dizzy Dean, Red Schoendienst, Tim McCarver, Ozzie Smith, Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday, and many others. While I still identify Ozzie Smith as my all-time favorite Cardinal, it’s hard to dismiss Musial’s hold on my own Cardinalicity (it’s a word if I use it) because I, and a majority of other Cardinals fans, hold him in such high regard; a dangerous thing to do with an athlete in this day and age of Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o and Musial’s heir-apparent who seemingly turned his back on the anointing, Pujols.
But as I sit here and ponder what to write, one thought goes through my head: What can you say about a player who was a legend even before he retired and had his stature only grow since he last wore the legendary ‘Birds on a Bat’? What can you say about a player who had an off-year and asked for a pay cut instead of an increase? What can you say about a man who, when given the chance to leave his beloved Cardinals for more money elsewhere, said no?
What can be said?
You could say that no town and its sport hero has ever had, and perhaps never will have, the connection that St. Louis had with Musial, and vice versa. He bridged the gap between his phenomenal Gas House Gang Cardinals teams of his generation to this generation of players, drawing reverence and interest whenever he was spotted at a Cardinals game. One need only remember the 2009 All Star game in St. Louis to get an idea of just how electric he could make a crowd, because the moment he rolled onto the field in a golf cart, the roar of the crowd was deafening.
And it’s been that way for a very, very long time.
When Musial retired in 1963, he held or shared 17 major league records, 29 National League records, and nine All-Star Game records. He played in the All-Star game 24 times, won seven National League batting titles, was selected to the Major League Baseball All-Century team in 1999 and, more recently, was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian, by President Obama in February of 2011.
His stats line is an impressive read as well, 475 homeruns, 3,630 hits, 1,951 RBIs, .331 lifetime batting average, three World Series titles as a player and one in his only year as a General Manager with, you guessed it, the Cardinals.
But as I already said; he was much more than a ballplayer to the Cardinals, he was The Man.
As the statue that guards Busch Stadium reads; “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
Goodbye Stan… you will be missed, but not forgotten.