Stan Musial, one of baseball’s greatest hitters and a revered figure in the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals —the player they called Stan the Man — died Saturday. He was 92.
The Cardinals announced the news, saying Musial died at his home in Ladue, Mo., surrounded by family.
A signature Musial image endures: He waits for a pitch in a left-handed crouch, his knees bent and close together, his body leaning to the left as he peers over his right shoulder, the red No. 6 on his back. The stance was likened to a corkscrew or, as White Sox pitcher and Dodger coach Ted Lyons once described it, “a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops are coming."
Swinging from that stance, Musial won seven batting championships, hit 475 home runs and amassed 3,630 hits. His brilliance lay in his consistency. He had 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 on the road. He drove in 1,951 runs and scored 1,949 runs. And his power could be explosive: he set a major league record, equaled only once, when he hit five home runs in a doubleheader.
“There is only one way to pitch to Musial — under the plate," Leo Durocher, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant teams that Musial often victimized, once said.
He was renowned for his concentration at the plate, and his patience: He struck out only 696 times in 10,972 at-bats — or 6 percent of the time — in his 22 major league seasons, all as a Cardinal. A gentlemanly and sunny figure — he loved to play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on his harmonica — he was never ejected from a game. When admirers approached him, he chatted them up with his familiar “whattayasay, whattayasay."
But he otherwise had little of the glamour of the other stars of his era — from the World War II years to the early 1960s — when baseball was the undisputed king of sports. He did not have the mystique of Joe DiMaggio, the tempestuousness of Ted Williams, the electrifying presence of Willie Mays, the country-boy aura of Mickey Mantle. His Cardinals were far removed from the coastal media centers, and he shunned controversy.
He simply tattooed National League pitching.
Musial played on three World Series championship teams, won three Most Valuable Player awards, had a career batting average of .331 while playing in the outfield and at first base, and was the fourth player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
He was the most cherished Cardinal of them all in a city that witnessed the exploits of Grover Cleveland Alexander and Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols.
Pujols, the slugger from the Dominican Republic, was sometimes saluted as El Hombre as he neared the end of his time in St. Louis.
“I don’t want to be called that," he told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2010. “There is one man that gets that respect, and that’s Stan Musial. I know El Hombre is The Man in Spanish. But he is The Man."
A frail Musial, wearing a Cardinal red sport jacket, came to the White House in February 2011 to receive the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, from President Obama, who called him “untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate."
There is one Gateway Arch in St. Louis but two statues of Stan the Man. Both are outside the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, the earlier one engraved with the words of Ford Frick, the baseball commissioner at the time, speaking at a ceremony before Musial’s final game, on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1963, at home against the Cincinnati Reds: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight."
Stanley Frank Musial was born on Nov. 21, 1920, in Donora, Pa., a zinc and steel mill town some 30 miles from Pittsburgh where smokestacks sent grime aloft around the clock. He was the fifth of six children of Lukasz Musial, a Polish immigrant who worked at a steel and wire company, and his wife, Mary, a New York City native of Czech descent.
His father had no interest in the frivolity of baseball, but the young Musial competed in gymnastics at a Polish sports club, developing his athleticism, and he played baseball with balls that his mother sewed from rags and string.
His high school didn’t have a baseball team, but he excelled in American Legion play as a left-handed pitcher, and he could hit as well. The Cardinals signed him to a minor league contract for the 1938 season.
Musial spent 1945 in the Navy, which assigned him to play baseball for its ball clubs to entertain servicemen. When he returned to the Cardinals, he picked up where he had left off, winning his second battling title with a .365 average in 1946 and helping to propel the Cardinals to the pennant, which they won in a playoff with the Dodgers. They also won the World Series title, defeating the Boston Red Sox.
Despite Musial’s consistent brilliance, the Cardinals fell in the standings during the late 1940s and ’50s, when the Dodgers and Giants National League.
Musial thrived at the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, plastering the right-field scoreboard and hitting home runs over it, and winning the grudging admiration of the notoriously tough Brooklyn fans.
“I did some phenomenal hitting there," he told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The ballpark was small, so the seats were close to the field and you could hear just about anything anybody said. Then I’d come to the plate and the fans would say, ‘Here comes that man again.’ And a sportswriter picked it up and it became Stan the Man."
The nickname, attributed to Bob Broeg of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, stayed with Musial as he piled up the hits.
Musial retired after the 1963 season, having played in 24 All-Star Games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.