Going to do something a little different this week.
As no doubt all of you know by now, St. Louis Cardinal Nation lost our Five-Star General some days ago. Stan "The Man" Musial left us with a great big hole in our collective heart.
Which leaves this inky servant with a great big problem: I never saw him play. As seems to be happening to those of us freshly-50 year-olds frequently, important stuff either happened, began to happen, or stopped happening right around 1961-1963. This list is long. Techtonic shifts. Well,
This was one of the biggest. Musial hung 'em up in '63. I was 1 year old.
But Dan O'Neill, who writes wonderfully for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did see him play. Idolized him as a kid. So here is the bulk of his remembrance of Musial, with permission:
* Tears To Remember *
Stan Musial was a big reason why some of us fell in love with sports. His character and virtue is a big reason why we are increasingly disenchanted with sports.
That is, they don't exist anymore.
Musial was the last great American sports hero - honest, unassuming, uncompromising, incomparable. If he played today,everything around Musial would be different, exaggerated, proliferated and punctuated. He would be the same.
It was the privilege of a lifetime to meet Stan "The Man," to know him, to have him know us. I say 'we' because it would be silly and self-indulgent to suggest I had a backstage pass to that experience. If you are a St. Louisian, you have your own story.
You had it embedded in your heart when you were young and confirmed as you grew old. We are fortunate to have that foundation, to know a ride on a Redbird Express, a crusty old ballpark on Grand Ave., a sunny afternoon in the shade of the grandstands...to know life as large as it gets.
It was musical, it was magical, it was Musial.
It was as pure and wholesome as it ever has been, or ever will be. No one, not Babe, not Ty, Ted, Willie, Hank, or Albert check all the boxes like Musial. None of baseball's stars exceeded their performance on the field with their performance off the field, except Musial.
I only saw him play at the end of his career. I was 9 years old when Musial was 41. He wasn't the same player at that juncture. He only hit .330 that season, .001 below his career average. The following year he retired.
Even then, at that advanced baseball age, there was something mesmerizing about him. He moved around the way Vladimir Horowitz moved about the ivories.
When you watched Musial, it was like watching a newsreel, raw and elegant all at once. He didn't hit a baseball. He stooped into a spring-loaded stance and surprised it. He didn't run bases, he descended on them. He glided to and from his position like a bow gliding over a cello, a balanced blend of ferocity and fluidity.
No one was more harmonious with his surroundings than Musial, in a milky white uniform, on a luscious green diamond.
I was at home on a Sunday afternoon when Musial said farewell to his playing career. My dad loved baseball more than life itself, but he despised the Cardinals for chasing his beloved Browns out of town. It made no sense and, if you knew my dad, it made perfect sense.
On that Sunday afternoon, on our flickering, black-and-white "shadow box," Musial pulled one more single through the right side and trotted off for the last time. I peaked over at my dad and tears were welled up in his eyes. I was only 10, but somehow I knew I was part of something unprecedented, something I would always remember, and tears welled up in my eyes.
That's how we know Musial. He gave us an autograph, a photograph. He gave us a bat, a glove. He gave us a thrill of a lifetime. he gave us a laugh and a cry. He gave us a reason to believe in heroes. He gave us goosebumps.
He gave, he gave, he gave.
It never mattered to us than Ken Burns shortchanged Musial in his epic baseball documentary. We didn't need validation from the eastern seaboard. We knew how special No. 6 was, as a player and a man. And if everyone else didn't, that was just fine. We had him to ourselves.
We didn't need to "Stand for Stan" in order for Musial to get a medal from the president. Of course, we were happy when it happened two years asgo. but Musial was in a wheelchair by then, dimished if still determined. He was one of 15 people to get the medal that day, a group that included Bill Russell. God bless you should you have ever asked Bill Russell for an autograph.
Sorry, but when you hand out a medal for meritorious endeavors, there aren't 14 people who stand with Stan. He stands alone.
Musial never disappointed.
My story took place several years ago. Jack Buck invited me to meet Stan and him out at the Missouri Bluffs. I think we played golf that day, but for the life of me I can't remember a single shot. I was too busy listening, laughing and loving every minute. I rode in a cart with Stan, who spent most of the time telling anecdotes, drawing jokes on napkins, and laughing and laughing at Buck's jokes.
I was riding with Stan but he made it seem as if it was the other way around. He kept calling me Dan "The Man," as if I was the legend, as if I was important. He didn't play well that day. A lot of his shots sliced to the left, but it didn't phase him a bit.
Stan wasn't embarrassed to be ordinary. He relished in it.
"You know," Musial said, standing on the tee. "When I was a kid, I learned to hit that ball to the opposite field and I would get a lot of doubles and triples that way. Now I hit the ball to the opposite field and I have to find it."
Then came the laugh. That goofy, giggly, uninhibited laugh that told you that after all these many years of being "The Man," Stan Musial was ultimately still "The Kid." It was a revelation that never ceased to amaze.
The thing Musial understood more than any other sports celebrity we have known is who he was and what it meant. No one appreciated the moral significance of "Stan Musial" more than Musial and he was committed to honoring that ideal.
He was a role model, a servant, an inspiration, an Ameircan ideal, and he never stopped trying to fulfill that perception and that promise. He shared the values and protected them. He accepted the formidable responsibilities that came with the blessings he had in life and did his best to repay them.
He did that, not because it was good publicity, not because it was self-serving, not because of a legal obligation. He did that because that's what he was supposed to do; that's what we're all supposed to do.
His name was simple, Stan. He wasn't sexy, flamboyant, intimidating or superficial. He was real. He was "baseball's perfect knight, baseball's perfect warrior," and St. Louis' perfect symbol.
He isn't sitting at the right hand of the Father, that spot's already taken. But he's in the starting lineup, maybe batting third, where he did for most of his career, where he hit .337 and slugged .576.
That spot in our order will be his forever.
You want to honor Stan Musial? He doesn't need another bridge, or a statue, or a proclamation or a medal. You want to honor Stan Musial? Try being honest, generious, righteous and humble. Try to be a hero.
That's who he was. Stan "The Man."
(Thanks to Dan The Man O'Neill for permission)
* * *
Mickey Mantle once said of Musial, "Stan was a better player than me because he's a better man than me. ... He got everything out of his life and out of his ability that he could. And he'll never have to live with all of the regret that I live with."
* * *
On this weekend when America celebrates its new favorite pastime's biggest day, St. Louis, Missouri's Cardinal Nation is still a tad pre-occupied with our still-favorite pastime's favorite passed hero.
We believe that we have better taste. Better, well, priotities.