I live on the East Coast and write about sports such as football, baseball, hockey, and basketball.
The Great Stan Musial
Stan Musial is one of the greatest baseball players of all time, and here is what I know about him. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals his entire career. He was Polish and played the harmonica. He had a funny looking, corkscrew batting stance. He accumulated incredible lifetime totals for hits, RBI, runs, and batting titles. Most notably, he was an all-around great guy who was universally praised by everyone that played with him or even those who had just met him briefly.
But I must admit that this is not much for an icon of his stature. There must be more to his story. This prompted me to do some research to see what else I could learn about him. Here are 10 items I discovered while reading about Stan Musial.
1. "Stan the Man"
Musial was first called this by Brooklyn Dodger fans for all the damage he wreaked on their team over the years. The Brooklyn fans started saying, “Here comes the man!” whenever Stan would come to the plate in 1946. “The Man” later appeared in a newspaper story, and from there, it stuck with Stan. He was elected to the Dodger Hall of Fame in appreciation for his talent as a player and goodness as a person. His close friends also called him Stash, which is an affectionate Polish alternative to Stan.
2. He Called Himself Stanley as If He Were a Character in His Own Life
For example, Stan told a young rookie who asked him to play pepper one day in spring training, “When Stanley plays pepper, Stanley hits.” More than anything, it was likely a way for Stan to be humorous and make people feel comfortable around him.
3. He Was Recruited as a Pitcher
He started out in the Cardinals farm system in 1938 as a pitching prospect. However, in his first two years, he didn’t fare very well, almost walking as many batters as innings pitched. The only reason he stuck around was because he was a decent hitter, batting .352 his second year in the minors. He injured his pitching shoulder the next year in 1940 while diving for a catch in the outfield; his throwing arm was never quite right again. Luckily, he ended he being more than a decent hitter.
4. He Served in the Navy in World War II
Even though he had a wife and two kids to support, Stan was still drafted in January 1945. Before this, he also visited troops for six harrowing weeks in the cold and darkness of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in the winter of 1943 to 1944. He did face some criticism for not enlisting sooner. While in the service, he mostly played ball for the base teams to entertain the troops. Stan soon found out that the generals wanted to see the long ball, not hits to left field, so he altered his stance to pull the ball more and swing for the fences. This experience factored into his evolution as a hitter. Before this time, he was a mostly a doubles and triples hitter, but when he returned to the Cardinals, he started to hit more home runs.
5. He Appeared on the Television Show Hee Haw
Stan played his harmonica with Roy Clark and Buck Owens on their popular syndicated show Hee Haw. The episode aired on March 16, 1985 and Stan appeared along with the Statler Brothers.
6. He Campaigned for John Kennedy
In 1959, Stan travelled with a group of celebrities that included actress Angie Dickinson and author James Michener to several Republican states like Nebraska, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado to promote the young Senator from Massachusetts. It was a whirlwind trip where the group traveled to a new town by plane every day, had a rally, then hurriedly departed for another town to do it all over again. It was exhausting, but all who participated said they had a great time and were truly committed to getting Kennedy elected president. Stan later visited President Kennedy at the White House in 1962.
7. He Was Good Friends With Author James Michener
The two were an unlikely pair, but they hit it off from the moment they met and spent a lot of time together. They were described by friends as two drinking buddies. Stan liked beer and Michener drank bourbon. They traveled together to Italy and Poland and their families would get together often. They also both campaigned for JFK.
8. He Was the General Manager of the Cardinals
For one year, in 1967, Stan was the general manager of the Cardinals and they won the World Series. They were a self-managing team with few injuries and no malcontents, so Stan didn’t really have to do much in his role. He decided to step down after one season because the GM job was taking too much time away from his other businesses like his popular restaurant.
9. He Was a Successful Businessman
Stan owned a popular steak house in St. Louis called Stan Musial and Biggie’s that was the place for the players, writers, and fans to eat after games. It became a St. Louis institution. He also owned hotels in St. Louis, Florida, and the Ozarks as well as a bowling alley he co-owned with former Cardinal teammate Joe Garagiola. Unfortunately, Garagiola later sued Stan for improper lending between the businesses. Their friendship never recovered from it. Musial also owned Stan the Man, Inc. which focused on the memorabilia side of his life by handling the scheduling of his card shows and appearances.
10. He Was Left Off the Top 25 Players of the Twentieth Century List in 1999
This all-century team was voted on by the fans. After the results came in, it was noticed that there were several glaring omissions. Consequently, baseball commissioner Bud Selig created a committee to deal with the mess. Five more players, including Stan, were tacked on to the list to correct the most flagrant oversights by the fans.
After reading about him, it’s a shame that Stan isn’t remembered more by today’s fans. He was a great player and person. For the incredible life he lived and for his contributions to baseball, Stan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was presented with the medal on Feb 15, 2011 by President Barack Obama. The award couldn’t have been given to a better person.