Tuesday, March 5, 2013

UCB Roundtable: Day 4 - Stan the man

I've mentioned it before, but the UCB Roundtable is a discussion held twice a year, and the group responds to a new question each day for a few weeks.  This time around, my question revolved around the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial.  The question and responses from Day 4 of the UCBRT were as follows:


Yesterday, the Missouri State Senate gave their first approval to name the new bridge in St. Louis after Stan Musial.  (link to PD's story)  You don't just roll out of bed, and live the kind of life, and have the kind of impact that Stan Musial had on, not only the Cardinals franchise, but the entire city of St. Louis, and beyond.  The entire Busch family sent a very nice "6" wreath to the site of the statue.  Bud Selig, Joe Torre, and other high-profile MLB names came to pay respects when he passed.  I submit to you that had Earl Weaver not passed the same day, the VIP list would've been much much longer.

Today's question takes a break from prediction-type discussion, and looks back instead:

Tell me what impresses you about Stan Musial.  If you were trying to describe Stan to someone who knew nothing about him, and very little about baseball in general, what would you say?

I'd encourage you to really think about this, and not just reply with some low-hanging fruit like 'half the hits on the road & half at home' type things.  Don't shy away from statistics, but also don't be afraid to share your thoughts on things beyond those numbers.  Thanks, everyone!


Great question...

I struggle a lot with the way players are perceived as heroes and "good people" just because they play the game we love.

That's my focus on Stan.  He was "The Man" in St. Louis.  Not just at the ballpark, but in the town.  He took time to greet people in the supermarket.  He took the time to talk to children, sign autographs, and genuinely felt blessed by his talents.  He transcended the game into everyday life.  He was the type of guy that you could point to when talking to your kids and say, "that's someone to look up to."  

That's what was most important to me.  That the fame did not cause him to become larger than life.  He was seemingly the same person when he died as he was when he signed his first contract.  

He was more than a ballplayer, he was The Man, and St. Louis was blessed to have him.


It's not always easy to put things like this into words.  Stan was, well, Stan--if you are a fan, you get it without a whole lot of words being necessary.

I'd echo what Bill said in that Stan was a genuinely great guy with no obvious black marks against him.  No "pulling rank" as it were, even though he could have without any animosity.  No sordid past or group of detractors.  Now, it's easy to say he played in a different time, when the press wasn't as adversarial or the coverage wasn't as complete, but he's stood the test of time and the people digging into his past.  There's still no one (save maybe Joe Garagiola) that had anything but the nicest things to say about Stan.

Even in that, though, Stan wasn't about the image.  He wasn't this person that had carefully crafted public displays of charity.  He didn't act one way with the cameras rolling and another without.  He was exactly what we thought he should be.  He could be a role model, unlike so many other athletes of today.

Couple all of that, the class, the dignity, his marriage to Lil for 70+ years, all of that with the fact that he was good. He started hitting as a rookie and never stopped.  He had probably the most complete career we're ever going to see.  Albert challenged that part of his legacy, but I don't think we'll see Albert hitting .300 when he's 40.

Even if he wasn't recognized as much in life, he was one of the all time greats and he spent his entire career in St. Louis.  That would be enough for admiration, but with everything else, well, someone said it best when they said, "I gave up on worrying about popes when they picked a Polish one and it wasn't Stanley Frank Musial."


I agree with Bill.  What separated Musial from the rest is that, while he was a star, he never acted like a star.  He would always take the time to sign autographs, he would play happy birthday for you on his harmonica, he was just an all-round great guy.

Athletes today could learn a lot from him and he will truly be missed.


What a wonderfully thought provoking yet difficult question.  The one thing that
strikes me most about Stan Musial is that there was no one thing that stood out.

Sure, he was a talented and successful ballplayer.  He also seemed to be unaware
of his greatness, as were some of the other legends of his time (Willie Mays,
Henry Aaron, Ted Williams).  The first thing that I think about when someone
mentions Stan Musial is that all he required for an autograph was a handshake
and a conversation.   He seemed to be as thrilled to meet a fan as the fan
was to meet him.

That's why he's called Stan the Man and not Stan the Ballplayer, or The Sultan of
Whatever, or the Cardinal Clipper.


Again, I agree with Bill and others...and that's always the first thing that strikes me about Stan. For decade after decade as the premiere celebrity in St. Louis - midwest royalty, even - he never changed who he was...not even a bit. But thinking longer on it, I always hear so much about Stan spending hours with fans - standing at his car after a game and signing, handing out souveniers after church, or even going out of his way to approach a couple taking wedding photos in front of his statue and make their memory even more special - and I always wonder, why can't players who want to follow Stan's example do that now? I know the easy answer is, "They would get swarmed by fans"...but that's never really been true in St. Louis. A bit, sure, but one of the reasons players love playing in St. Louis is the fact that they can live some semblence of a normal life - go to a movie, go to the zoo, go out to eat, etc. - with minimal disruption.
When Matt Holliday or Yadier Molina tire of autographs and escape to the clubhouse, or Chris Carpenter walks by fans after a 6 and a 1/2 hour Baseball Writer's dinner and says "no autographs, no autographs" as he loads his family into the car...I think to myself, "Would Stan have done that?" And more often than not - I'm sure even Stan couldn't sign forever - the answer is, "no."
Don't take me wrong...I don't think those players are being selfish or slighting fans in any way (despite what some fans think, players DO deserve to have a life), but it was just difficult to reconcile who Stan was in those moments with players who seem to be good people and want to emulate Stan...and yet always fall short. Stan never forgot those promises we all make to ourselves as children - "If I make it to the big leagues, I'll sign for EVERYBODY!". But I think - and I thank Dathan for this question because it finally led to the answer for me - it's not a matter of whether players want to be like Stan or even if they are "lesser people" than Stan was...
It's simply a matter of how unusually strong Stan Musial was as a person, as a player, and as a man. Stan is constantly seen as a friendly, caring, attentive person who always went out of his way to make someone's day special when he saw an opportunity to do so...but Stan was also full to the brim with strength. To be able to endure, persevere, and manage to be the man he was actually required a rare combination of patience, endurance, understanding, and strength. Stan Musial was no pushover.
One of my favorite stories about Stan is when a pitcher deliberately threw over his head two or three times in a row. By the third time, even Stan started to charge the mound! A player who was never ejected from any game...even he had his limit. When push came to shove, Stan would throw down with the best of them if needed. When the strength to endure was needed, he showed that to extreme...but when the strength to act was appropriate, everyone in that stadium that day saw Stan "The Man" take two or three strides towards the mound to confront a man challenging him.
I think a lot of people would look at Stan - especially outside St. Louis - and have trouble seeing him as anything more than "a nice guy." But it took so much strength to be who he was consistently, day in and day out, that I marvel at the strength he must have possessed as a man.
One more modern-day reference...
Jason Motte recently tweeted something about a fan booing him because he didn't stop to sign at the gate. Motte said his wife had a horrible fever and a screaming child, so he just needed to give his attention and time to them at that moment rather than stop to sign. I am completely on Motte's side, so please don't misunderstand me when I say this...but I just can't help but think Stan would've found a way to make it work...maybe he goes back after his family is settled, maybe he has someone take his family home while he signed a bit, I don't know...but I just feel like Stan wouldn't have been fazed in the least by the adversity.
Now, maybe that's not true. Maybe it's the mythology of Musial talking when I think Stan would've somehow found a way to sign and care for his family...but even that says something. The man displayed so much strength and ease when dealing with people that the mythology he left behind made him seem superhuman. Like Paul Bunyan, Stan displayed such amazing strength as a man and as a person, he actually became a modern-day folk tale.
That's what sticks with me about Stan...his incomprehensible strength.


I love this question. Not because it's about Stan, per se, but because there is honestly no wrong answer. Stan was a legend in baseball, but even more so in life. That's the rarest kind of fame, in my mind. But for me, the thing that blows my mind about Stan "The Man" is the depth (and length and breadth ...) of his reach.
I never saw him play baseball. I never met him. I never knew him as anything other than an aging legend. I grew up knowing the name, yes. But, as a young baseball fan in a generation removed from Musial's playing days, I didn't have any sort of first hand knowledge of why we (as a Cardinal-fan family) loved Musial ... we just did. I just did. Of course, that was initially due to the relation to my team, and very little else. Stan, though, had a reach that spanned generations in such a unique way. He was a living legend whose post-baseball life was as magnificent as his playing days.

His generosity, loyalty, commitment, compassion, and humility were just as great (if not more so) than his batting average, his defense, his "clutch-ness" ... Even I knew he was an All-Star in life, not just baseball, and I saw only a microscopic portion of what made him that way.
Stan had a firm grip on reality, and an understanding that baseball was only one small part if it. So many of today's athletes either shirk the responsibility of being a "role model," or they build up their sports image as the be-all and end-all of life. Not Stan. He lived every day in such a way that, if a child (or grownup!) was watching, they'd see how baseball should be played, and more importantly, how life should be lived.
And, I didn't have to see Stan play to know that. 


Great question, Dathan!  In addition to all the great things that everyone else has said about Stan, he was one of the few white ballplayers in the 1940s who befriended African-American ballplayers.  Stan would see them playing poker in the locker room and ask to be dealt in.  That was his way of befriending them off the field. He was good friends with Willie Mays. 

I saw Stan in person only once and that was at the opening of Busch Stadium III.  He may have been frail and he had difficulty walking, but when he got up to the microphone, he turned on the charm, shared a few jokes, and played his harmonica. 

What I would say to someone who knew nothing about Stan was that he was a man who gave 110% on and off the field and who treated everyone he met like royalty.  All of his stats came naturally - no performance enhancing drugs or steroids.  He was a devoted family man and a humble person.  All of these qualities in one person is rare in these times.  There needs to be more people like Stan in today's world. 


To my knowledge, and I do not have a lot of it, Stan Musial is an irreplaceable icon who not only won the hearts of baseball fans in St. Louis, but the hearts of non-sports fans in the metro areas as well. 

From his on-the-field accomplishments, to his patriotism and sacrifice of serving in the military, to his wacky harmonica, Stan Musial should be remembered not as the "Perfect Midwesterner" as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports painted, but instead as the perfect American. 

Nobody has ever been so successful and seen so much, yet stayed as humble, friendly, and charming as Stan Musial. He was a role model for young athletes. He was a role model for young kids. He was the type of person every adult across this country should strive to be.  



Stan Musial was true to himself, true to his family, true to his heritage. He never pretended. He treated everyone with dignity and decency and respect. He was a selfless individual. He was comfortable in his own skin. He was a talented person with a humble spirit and a kind heart.


Echoing what everyone else has said, I like that he always had those complementary autograph cards on him—even when he was charging for 8x10s and above.
To me, Stan is and always will be St. Louis.  He played during the time of the reserve clause and when he had a bad year, he asked for a reduction in his contract.  How many players in this era have the courage to approach the organization in a down year?


Stan was a presence. If you grew up in St. Louis, whether you watched a single Cardinals game or not, you knew of Stan. He was a one-man institution in St. Louis, on the level of the Anheuser-Busch, the Arch and the Cardinals themselves. Much like people know of Pierre Laclede separate from him founding the city itself, you know of Musial, separate of the Cardinals.

Stan was numbers, but for the majority of people in the city now, he was living legacy and visualization of respect coming and going. This is as surface level as I can go, because I started asking questions about "Why is everybody standing up for him...who's that?" from the time I was about 8 years old, so I know him a very in-depth way now. Partially because of my thirst for baseball knowledge, but also because of that impact he made on me at such a young age, and I'm sure for countless other locals over the 70 plus years he made an impact in St. Louis.


I doubt I'm mining territory the rest of the group hasn't already, but Stan Musial was one of the few sports icons in history with an unblemished purity. There are often good guys throughout the game of baseball, and there are plenty of Hall of Fame talents as well. What Stan did is manage to be both, a feat that seems increasingly impossible as time passes. Stan was one of the best and most talented players in the history or the sport, but that never changed him. For his entire life he was nothing but an extremely well-meaning man who influenced the lives of many. He never came across as anything less than a legend both on and off the field, and that's a combination we just never get to see anymore.


In baseball, as in life, there are genuinely good people who people can honestly and rightfully admire. Stan Musial was one of those people, both in life and in baseball. He retired before I was born, and I was not born a Cardinals fan, yet even I learned before becoming one the impact of what he meant both as a man and as a ballplayer. That’s an accomplished life.

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