Remembering Stan Musial
by Charlie Blasberg on Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
On Saturday, January 19, baseball lost one of its most beloved icons: Stan “The Man” Musial. A 24-time all-star, Musial led the St. Louis Cardinals to over 20 years of success from the mid 1940s until the 1960s. Over his illustrious career, Musial won the World Series three times, claimed the National League batting title seven times, and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player three times. Musial retired with 17 MLB records, despite missing an entire season to serve in World War II. Even once his playing career was over, Musial led his beloved Cardinals to another World Series title in 1967 (against Boston’s impossible dream team) as the team’s general manager.
Despite his enormous legacy on the baseball diamond, Musial perhaps deserves more recognition for the quality of his character. In 2011, Barack Obama awarded Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. The medal has been awarded to such icons as Yo-Yo Ma, Jonas Salk, Martin Luther King Jr., and Neil Armstrong. President Obama introduced Musial as a man whose “hustle matched his humility” and as a “gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.” Stan Musial accepted the award in a red sports coat and a red-striped tie, symbolizing his loyalty to his beloved Cardinals.
Playing during the racial integration of the major leagues, Musial took on an active role to ensure fair treatment of African American players. Willie Mays, one of the first prominent African American players in the MLB, is usually reticent around the press; however, when asked about Musial, Mays enthusiastically replied, “we all loved Stan Musial. He played the game the right way.” He continued to tell that reporter a story about an All-Star game in the late 1950s. Lacking acceptance from white players, black players usually socialized in different areas of the clubhouse, away from the taunts and slurs of white players. One time, when the black players were sitting around a table playing poker, Musial marched directly towards them, sat down, and joined in. Musial knew nothing about poker and ended up losing a lot of money throughout the game, but playing poker was never his intention: he was making an effort to fully integrate African Americans into baseball. Mays’ face straightened as he finished the story and said, “We never forgot that.”
Former Red Sox pitcher, Curt Schilling noted that Musial’s life was “a clinic in respect, integrity, and honor,” but Red Sox owner John Henry, who grew up a die-hard Cardinals’ fan summed it up best. “Baseball has lost its best man.”
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