Stan Musial: Great from the Git-Go

Stan Musial (L) relaxes at beach with friends during spring training 1942.

How times have changed. Back in the winter of 1940-41, a young pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated a Class D season pitching record of 18-8 and a batting average of .311 by going home to his little birthplace in the country at season’s end to stock and sack groceries at a local food store. Of course, he did. The kid was only 20 years old and much in need of that off-season job income.

That kid quickly grew to be the man – Stan “The Man” Musial, one of the greatest examples of a great pitching prospect forced by early arm injury and an even louder talking bat into make the conversion from the mound to everyday action as a position player.

From 1941 forward through 1963, the corkscrew hunching lefty would torment National League pitching with a hitting barrage that would easily carry him on a no-brainer path to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 22 big league seasons, Musial would win 7 NL batting titles and hit .331 for his career with 3,630 total MLB hits, 725 doubles, 177 triples, 425 home runs, 1,951 runs batted in, and 6 slugging average titles. We could go on and on, but the picture on Musial is already clear. He was a great producer from the very start of his career.

Stan Musial with Chuck Schmidt at spring training 1954.

In his 22 MLB seasons, Musial hit over .300 on 17 occasions. He won 3 MVP awards. He played in 4 World Series. And he played in 24 All Star Games. His 1969 induction into the Hall of Fame was anti-climatic to a foregone conclusion. The guy belonged nowhere short of baseball’s top rung of greatest hitters – and his outfield and first base play in the field was not too shabby either.

Two factors fail to show up clearly in most straight statistical looks at the career of Stan Musial, but much of the man’s true character and early ability leaks out in the above article I received yesterday from Bill Rogers, a St. Louis Browns friend in St. Louis. The little column from Springfield, Missouri back in 1941 speaks to  how good “The Man’s” hitting was from early on – and the little comment about his off-season job in Donora, PA as a grocery clerk speaks humbly for his lack of ego about these God-given abilities. The man just got up each morning and went out and did what he needed to do – and what he was capable of doing – and that included stocking grocery shelves because he needed the money as well as knocking the covers off baseballs because he had the ability to do so.

Stan Musial and Yours Truly, St. Louis, 2002.

I was privileged to meet Stan Musial back in 1996 when I attended an annual banquet in St. Louis honoring former members of the old St. Louis Browns. I’ve since seen him several additional times at these same functions, although they are no longer being planned on the same level. Time and the loss in great numbers of the old Browns has changed everything except for the inevitable conclusion that finally falls upon all human endeavor. But it was fun while it lasted.

That first time I met Musial was dumbfounding. I was alone on an elevator in the banquet hotel, heading for a fan afternoon reception for the old Browns. All of a sudden, the door opens on a floor and a man enters to join me as the only other rider.

Here I am. Little Billy McCurdy from the Houston End. A guy who lives to find a rare Stan Musial baseball card. Now. Here I am again. Grown up and older Bill McCurdy. Riding alone on an elevator with my greatest baseball childhood hero – and I can’t even speak. I don’t want to put “The Man” through one of those Goofy-like, “Gawrsh, you’re Stan Musial, aren’t you?” moments that I’m sure he’s been through a gazillion times. But I also don’t want to seem stupid or disrespectful by ignoring him totally.

As the elevator door opens on our reception floor destination, I settle for a smiling nod and eye contact statement of “Hi, Stan!” It felt OK. And I later got a photo with him, plus his autograph on a baseball. By this time, everybody was doing it.

Over the years that followed, I learned that Stan Musial was as nice and down-to-earth friendly as anyone could be. Whether he actually remembered me from year to year, I can’t say, but he always behaved as though he did. He was as friendly toward me as my old Polish-ancestry baseball coach at St. Christopher’s back in the early 1950s. I will always remember his kindness as much as I do his greatness.

If you pray, keep Stan Musial in your prayers from here on. He turns 88 on November 21st, but he’s in frail health these days. When we lose him, we’re not getting another like him. They aren’t making any more Stan Musials in the 21st century.

Have a nice day too. It’s good to be back. I can’t guarantee I’ll be writing another daily blog for a while, but I will give what I do write here my best shot, as time and energy allows.

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10 Responses to “Stan Musial: Great from the Git-Go”

  1. bbprof Says:

    Dear Bill:

    I guess great minds run in the same general direction. I publiished my “memoirs” about Stan, who i think turns 90 this November 21st. I do have the advantage of having gone to the same church for over 30 years with the “man in the first row…on the right”. Keep up the good work. BB

    http://bbprof.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-man-in-the…w-on-the-right/

  2. Earl Aldridge Says:

    Hi Bill, I am so envious of you (the photo of you with “the man”. He was as for many youth, a geninue hero and role model. Where are the heros today, who by the way, make much more to play the game “the man” loved??? Hope you are well Bill, and enjoy your writings.

  3. Margery McCurdy Says:

    I don’t know Mr. Musial, but after reading the article, I feel like I do.

  4. David Munger Says:

    Dad always said the greatest thing about being a Cardinal was
    Musial was on his team and Williams was in the other league.
    He is beloved in St. Louis, but I don’t think the fan of today truly
    appreciates and understands his GREATNESS…….Here comes that
    MAN again………

  5. Anthony Cavender Says:

    Bill: Sports Illustrated published an article about Stan Musial this summer–in fact, he was on the cover! Like your article, it was a very moving tribute to a very great ball player and human being. Bob Gibson, who was Musial’s teammate as his career came to its close, said he was the nicest man he met in baseball.

  6. Oscar S. Says:

    Bill,

    You evidently grew up in Pecan Park on Houston’s East End.

    Well, I am little younger than you, 58 to be exact.

    But I spent a few years of my early childhood at 6936 ILEX

    We moved when I was 7 or 8 to the Country Club addition,

    behind Diner Bell Cafeteria.

    We have lived on the west side for the past 33 years, Hwy 6/Clay Rd. area.

    and raised our three daughters there.

    I believe on your recent trip to Rome, you mentioned you were

    there with fellow parishoners from St. John Vianney.

    Well, we are members of a neighboring parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

    To make a long story short, I am a native Houstonian, and would love to meet you

    and talk to you about our great city’s past.

    I enjoy reading you daily stories and can relate to quite a few of them.

    If you get time or even want to talk to a total stranger, give me a call.

    Thanks for your time.

    Oscar Sicola

    Immaculate Conception Grade School

    Resurrection Grade School

    Mt. Carmel High School “Class of 69”

  7. Wayne Roberts Says:

    In the late 1990’s I attended a sports memorabilia show at which Mr. Musial was signing autographs. I had been hanging on to a particular item since about 1964…a 33 1/3 LP album called “Stan the Man’s Hit Record”. My father picked it up at a Phillips 66 gas promotion. It’s a cool album, where Mr. Musial offers hitting tips to little leaguers interspersed with radio recordings of big hits in his career. It also had an instruction book with photos of Musial showing kids hitting techniques. At the show I handed him the album and he paused to look at it. “This is really in good shape”, he said. “I see 2 or 3 of these a year but I’ve never seen one in this good of shape”. I told him that the album meant a lot to me since it was a gift from my dad, but I couldn’t help adding that I had a beef with him: “see, here on the front, it says will make you into a big league hitter. I never made it past high school”.

    Musial looks at the album cover again, cooly eyes me from head to waist and replies in deadpan “obviously you didn’t listen to it enough times”.

    What a class act. What a great man.

  8. Bud Says:

    Bill, I’ll never forget going to Sportsmans Park in Sept of 1941 with the Cardinals and Dodgers (Brooklyn) locked in struggle for the pennant. This rookie with the corkscrew stance was brought up from Rochester and set the league on fire, hitting .426 for the rest of the year. The Dodgers nosed us out for the pennant which broke my heart, but we got our revenge the next season. Fast forward 50 years, our local SABR group got a proper marker for Joe Medwick’s grave and held a little ceremony at the cemetery. Joe’s widow and kids came up from Florida plus Stan, Red, Bing Devine, Bob Broeg, and others. After the autograph hounds finally backed off I edged up to Stan and asked him “Hey Stan, do you remember your rookie year of ’42 one day at Sportsmans Park when you were out with a sprained ankle and Southworth sent you up to pinch hit with the bases loaded and a rookie name of Johnny Sain hit you in the back of the neck?” Stan says “Heck yes, it hit me right behind the ear”. We proceeded to talk for about 15 minutes about the ’41 and ’42 seasons the Runnin Redbirds etgc. til Mrs Musial came up and yanked Stan away. We were happy to see Stan at 2 or 3 of our St Louis Browns dinners where he would bring his harmonica and lead the singing of Take Me out to the Ballgame. Great memories. What a great man.

  9. Bob Wagner Says:

    Wayne: Funny story!!

  10. Don Wright Says:

    In my opinion, Stan Musial is the greatest player to ever play the game. I first saw him play when I was just a kid. He would talk to me during warmups like he knew me….or any other kid for that matter. He was and still is a “Gentleman” who just happens to be a very good baseball player. He is the best!

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