A great player and a great gentleman, he was the last of the baseball dinosaurs.
“I never heard anybody say a bad word about him – ever,” Willie Mays said in a statement released by the Hall of Fame.
I grew up in the blue-collar Polishtown section of Rochester, New York, so The Man has special significance to me. Stan grew up a generation earlier in a blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, and played ball for our own Rochester Red Wings before getting called up by the Cards. And the old Red Wing Stadium was right in the heart of Polishtown, within walking distance of St. Stan’s church!
I don’t think that church was named after Musial, but if you ask me who was the most popular figure in the eyes of that baseball-mad Polish community, I’d have to say it was pretty close between Stan and Jesus. And I’d have to give a slight edge to Stan, because Jesus was a little slow getting down the line in those sandals.
I don’t have to tell you baseball fans how good Stan was, but I’ll remind you of some of his superlative achievements. He won three MVPs and finished second four other times. He led the league in slugging six times. He also led the league in OBP six times.
In 1948, Stan had one of the greatest years any National Leaguer ever had, perhaps THE greatest before steroids came along. He narrowly won the slugging average crown, by a mere 138 points! He missed by one from leading the league in homers. That one stinkin’ homer cost him the triple crown, and that’s the closest any National Leaguer has come since World War Two. But wait, there’s much more. He also led the league in doubles and triples that year. And, most amazing of all, given that he had 103 extra base hits, he also finished fourth in singles, and seventh in walks! He had 429 total bases and the second-place guy had only 316. Stan also led in on-base percentage. And runs scored.
But the real measure of Stan the Man as a ballplayer and as a man was this comparison to his AL rival, Ted Williams: Williams was booed at home and Musial was applauded on the road.
That says it all.