Stan Musial was one of the finest and most consistent hitters to ever step into a batter’s box.
No all-time great in any sport gets left out of more “who’s the greatest?” conversations than Musial. The best player in the history of one of baseball’s proudest franchises – first as an outfielder, later as a first baseman – Stan The Man was the heart and soul of the St. Louis Cardinals for over two decades.
The eldest of six children born to Polish immigrant parents, Stanislaw Franciszek Musial grew up in Donora, a Rust Belt town in Western Pennsylvania, 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Cardinals as a left-handed pitcher in 1938, but damaged his throwing shoulder while diving for a ball and was moved to the outfield. In September 1941, the left-hander made his big league debut in the second game of a doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.
Employing a corkscrew stance, off-balance follow through, and inside-out swing, Musial became the epitome of consistency at the plate. Standing six feet tall and weighing only 170, Musial had small hands — so he used a light bat with a thin handle. He hit for average and with power, had a career OPS of .976, and whiffed an average of only 32 times a season. “The secret to hitting?” Relax, concentrate – and don’t hit a fly ball to center,” said the man they called the Donora Greyhound.
By all measures, Musial is one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game Yet he has never fully gotten his due. In 2009, ESPN.com ranked Musial as the most underrated athlete of all time. In any sport. “No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer,” said Ty Cobb, who earned more votes [including Babe Ruth] than any player in the inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame. “Stan Musial, however, is the closest thing to being perfect in the game today.”
Humble, generous and kind, Musial inspired little poetry by the baseball scribes of his day. While Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio came across as multi-layered, slightly tormented souls who struggled with their public fame and private shortcomings, Musial flew under the radar. Playing before adoring fans in the Heartland, he stood as baseball’s perfect knight. The Sir Galahad of our national pastime.
Mickey Mantle said Musial “was a better player than me because he was a better man than me.” The standard bearer of the franchise, Stan was The Man – particularly in St. Louis. Musial was the perfect embodiment of baseball in the city where baseball matters most.
Albert Pujols is the second-best hitter in Cardinals history. Dubbed El Hombre, the future first-ballot hall-of-famer hit .300 or better in each of his first ten big league seasons. In 2010, Pujols said he didn’t want to be called “The Man” – even in Spanish – because “There is one man that gets that respect, and that is Stan Musial.”
Let’s take a closer look at some of the numbers associated with Stan Musial:
Career hits – 1,815 at home, 1,815 on the road.
Musial’s jersey number, which was the first ever retired by the Cardinals, in 1963. No one wore Number 6 after Musial, but Red Schoendienst wore it in 1945 when Stan The Man was serving in the Navy during World War II.
The year in which Musial batted .376, drove in 131 runs, scored 135 runs, and hit 39 home runs. He missed tying for the NL lead in homers by one rained out home run. Had it counted, Musial would have won the Triple Crown. In addition, he would have been the only player of the 20th century to lead the league in runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI and slugging percentage.
Months spent serving his country. Stan The Man enlisted in the Navy in January 1945. He was honorably discharged as a Seaman Second Class in March 1946. In 2007, Musial received the Navy Memorial’s Lone Sailor Award, which honors Navy veterans who have excelled in civilian life.
Career batting average. Musial won seven NL batting titles and hit .300 or better in 16 consecutive seasons.
National League records the Donora Greyhound held at the time of his retirement in 1963.
Career home runs the left-handed hitting slugger belted during his hall-of-fame career.
World Series titles Musial led the Cardinals to, National League MVP titles won by Stan The Man, and number of MLB All-Stars [Musial, Ken Griffey Sr., Ken Griffey Jr.] born in Donora, Pennsylvania.
In 1969, Stan Musial was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Four decades later, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. Mr. Musial died in 2013, at 92.
On this date in 1946, the Cardinals were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Whenever Musial came to bat, Dodger fans chanted “Here comes the man!”. Bob Broeg, a sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, mentioned this story in his column, and Musial was forever thereafter known as Stan The Man.
“Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.” – inscription on Stan Musial’s statue outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis.