Family, friends and fans give 'Stan the Man' a final tribute in Donora
It is said that home is where the heart is.
For baseball great Stan “The Man” Musial, that home was Donora.
That town's mentality of hard work, ethical living and faith in God helped create “The Man” everyone knew and loved.
Those who knew Musial say he took Donora with him throughout his life.
What more fitting tribute, then, could be given to “The Man” than a final salute to his life and legacy from the people of his beloved hometown?
Our Lady Of The Valley Church in Donora was filled Saturday morning with reatives, friends and fans who in some way loved Musial.
The Rev. Pierre M. Falkenhan, pastor, presided over the Memorial Mass, which was organized by Donora Mayor John Lignelli.
Musial's achievements in baseball were mentioned, of course, including his 3,630 hits, 475 home runs and seven National League batting titles, to name a few.
It was, however, the Hall of Famer's heart and soul of that took center stage as he was remembered.
Lignelli, who greeted everyone as they arrived at the service, remembered Musial as the best of the best.
“He came up the right way, and he never forgot it,” said Lignelli, who also spearheaded the campaign to have the Donora-Monessen Bridge renamed Stan “The Man” Musial Bridge this past May.
Lignelli spoke about Musial's roots in Donora and how he never lost that small town heart.
“He was one of the greatest individuals of all time, one of the greatest athletes of all time,” the mayor told the cridwed church.
Friends and relatives echoed that sentiment.
By all accounts, he lived a life worthy of the legacy of his nickname.
Musial loved his life, his family and God, according to the various messages delivered at the service.
He was a devoted husband to his beloved wife of nearly 72 years, Lillian, who passed away May 3, 2012, not quite a year before Stan's passing on Jan. 19, and treasured father to son Richard and daughters Gerry, Janet, and Jeanie.
Laurel Grimes, whose Aunt Lillian (Labash) Musial married Stan, remembered her Uncle Stan as easygoing, kind and always liking to amuse people. She remembered the rings Musial made out of dollar bills for kids in the family. He would put his signature on the intricately folded rings where a gem would belong.
“All the nieces and nephews have them,” Grimes said.
Grimes also recalled attending the 100th anniversary of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 with her husband, Marty, and their children, Derek and Sally Grimes.
The family expected to attend the event in the audience, but Musial had them ushered to the stage area.
“He included everyone,” said Grimes, whose husband remembered the signed baseballs Stan lways kept with him for fans.
Author, speaker, and sports historian, Stephen Russell, gave the eulogy at the Mass, speaking with fervent admiration of Musial, having known Stan through his father, Jimmy Russell, a Major League Baseball player andfriend of Musial's.
Russell recalled Musial as having a rare attitude of thankfulness that is seldom seen in people today – and more scarcely seen in athletes.
Russell mentioned one record set by Musial that serves as testimonial to his character. He was never ejected from a game in his entire 22-season major league career.
He considered himself lucky to be able to play the great national pastime, according to Russell, who recently retired as superintendent of the Belle Vernon Area School District.
Russell, who wore a red “6” on his lapel, as honorary tribute to Musial's baseball number, said Musial “conducted his life in moderation except for his exceptional records in baseball.”
He recounted reading a statement by the baseball great Ted Williams, who in an interview said, “I wish I could hit like Stan Musial.”
Russell spoke about the kid who came from poverty in a small mill town, rising to greatness.
“He was the embodiment of post-war America,” Russell said of Musial, adding that he knew that it was “better to be appreciated than glorified, respected than celebrated.”
Russell described Musial's career as one that “sparkled with excellence.”
He recounted Musial's life of record-setting baseball accomplishments, but said it was his character that will be most remembered.
“Perhaps none of his records will stand forever,” Russell said.
“His legacy will. There will never be another like Stan.”
Miranda Startare is a freelance writer.