Musial truly was 'The Man' in baseball
Trying to reduce Stan Musial and his accomplishments to a single article is futile – like trying to condense an encyclopedia into a single paragraph.
Still, as the 50th anniversary of his final game nears, let's pay tribute to Donora's most famous native – just as the members of the media did when he banged out his final hit. Breaking an unwritten rule of the pressbox, as Musial left the field for the final time, the sportswriters applauded the amiable Musial.
One writer who realized Musial had bowed out just as he had broken in, with a two-hit game, joked. “He hasn't improved at all.”
Musial reflected that it was a coincidence that his final hits rocketed by rookie second baseman Pete Rose because Rose would later break Musial's National League record hit total.
Some of Musial's feats are well known such as the fact that half of his 3,630 hits came during road games and half were drilled at home, and the fact that he held a slew of records: 17 big league records, 29 NL bests, and nine All-Star game records.
However, few fans know that in 1946, after missing the 1945 season to serve in the Navy, Musial hit 50-plus doubles and 20-plus triples, which made him the only player ever to reach those plateaus in a year. He owned a ton of extra base hits: 725 doubles, 177 three-base hits, and 475 homers to complement his 1,951 RBI, fourth best ever. Only Hank Aaron had more total bases than Musial, only two men hit more doubles, and Musial is fourth for lifetime hits. The “Man,” a career .331 hitter, was remarkable.
In 1948 Musial nearly became the only man ever to lead his league in homers, RBI, batting, doubles, triples, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, and hits. If one of his home runs hadn't been erased because a game in which he homered was called due to rain, he would have become the ninth player to win a triple crown, and he would have completed a clean sweep of every major statistical offensive category. His .376 batting average was a staggering 115 points higher than the league average.
Roughly 20,000 men have played major league baseball and only four of them finished in the top 20 for homers, ribbies, and batting average: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Musial.
He led the NL in doubles a record eight times, in extra base hits a record seven times, six times he topped the league in hits, slugging, on-base percentage, and total bases. He led in triples and runs five times, and he reached the 200-hit plateau on six occasions. Musial's on-base percentage stood 84 points above the average hitter of his era, and his slugging percentage (.559) a lofty 151 points above the norm of his time period. He was on base 5,282 times, sixth best ever. He hit double figures for homers in each of his full seasons, and he tied the record for the most game-ending home runs, 12.
Married to Lil Labash for nearly 72 years, Musial was a model of dependency, averaging about 100 RBI and runs, close to 200 hits, and around 40 doubles per season over his 22-year career. Nowadays, some men whiff as many as 200 times a year; Musial averaged 31 strikeouts each season. Nobody made the All-Star squad more times than Musial's 24 selections – the only year he wasn't an All-Star was when he was in the Navy.
As affable man off the field, on the diamond he was feared by pitchers, including Warren Spahn who once said, “Once Musial timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy.”
Musial generated many other famous quotes. Consider a few:
• Pitcher Ted Lyons observed, “His batting stance looks like a small boy looking around a corner to see if the cops are coming.”
• Pitcher Carl Erskine, quipped, “I've had pretty good success with Stan – by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third.”
• Catcher Yogi Berra told his pitchers, who were discussing how to get Musial out at an All-Star game, “You guys are trying to stop Musial in 15 minutes when the National (League) ain't stopped him in 15 years.”
• Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully summarized, “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”
The May/June 2013 issue of Baseball Digest revealed an interesting tale of Musial. In 1963 Ernie Banks invited Musial to accompany him to appear at an event. Banks told Musial they would be traveling through a rough area of Chicago, then he remembered Musial had come from a poor neighborhood. Musial said, “Yeah, and tough, too. The farther down the street (Marelda Avenue) you went, the tougher it got, and I lived in the last house on the street.”
Although he remained underappreciated by many media members, he deserved every tribute ever paid to him. Two of his final honors were the Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed upon him in 2011 by President Obama, and the naming of the bridge between Donora and Monessen after him in 2012.
Always convivial and modest, Musial, who passed away on Jan. 19, 2013, was the most approachable superstar of them all – it's said that even after he had won his three MVPs his phone number was not unlisted, and he willingly took calls from fans. More than any other baseball great, Musial was devoted to his fans.
There's a Shakespeare line used to describe Julius Caesar, a quote that also aptly applies to Musial now: “Here was a Caesar! When comes such another.” In Musial's case, the answer is there probably never again will be such a Man.
Wayne Stewart is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.