January 19, 2013

#Stlcards fans say good-bye to #StanTheMan

Stan the Man
Photo via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial had been in ill health for some time, but ... that doesn't prepare anybody for his passing away.

The unpretentious Musial was arguably one of the top 10 batters of all time. Yet, unpretentious and playing in the heartland, not one of the coasts, he was almost left off baseball's all-time top 100 team several years back.

On the playing side? Seven battling titles, six slugging percentage titles. Five runs scored titles, two RBI crowns. Eight times leading the league in doubles and five in triples.

His Wins Above Average, of 81.6, is better than many a Hall of Famer's Wins Above Replacement. Nearly 2,000 career RBIs and nearly 2,000 runs scored. Seventh in career offensive WAR and 13th in career OPS. Still sixth in career RBIs, ninth in career runs, and second only to Hank Aaron in career total bases.

Stan Musial guards Busch Stadium.
AP photo via ESPN.
And yet, unpretentious and playing in the heartland, not one of the coasts, he was almost left off baseball's all-time top 100 team.

 Bill James even has him at No. 1, all time, on his Hall of Fame Monitor numbers.

If the Cards had had even better rosters in the 1950s, more postseason appearances might have helped. And, the boosted regular season numbers would have been incredible.

Just think of what one difference could have made ... Yogi Berra instead of Joe Garigiola behind the plate in St. Louis. Joe wasn't bad as a catcher, but he was no Yog.

 I'm sure Yogi, as well as another St. Louis-area native, and former teammate and Hall of Famer, Red Schoendienst (who just celebrated his 90th birthday), and others will be weighing in.

They will be, of course, talking about Musial's greatness as a person, as well as a player.

Musial was that, too. And, with some degree of Democratic political activism, including involvement with at least JFK's presidential campaign as a fellow Catholic. He then served as Lyndon B. Johnson's director of the National Council on Physical Fitness.

The AP story reminds us more of his character. He supported Jackie Robinson when he crossed the color line, and appeared to have good rapport with black ballplayers in general, at least of the pioneer generation:
Brooklynites had another reason to think well of Musial: Unlike Enos Slaughter and other Cardinal teammates, he was supportive when the Dodgers' Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Bob Gibson, who started out with the Cardinals in the late 1950s, would recall how Musial had helped established a warm atmosphere between blacks and whites on the team.

''I knew Stan very well,'' (Willie) Mays said. ''He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could. Again, a true gentleman on and off the field.''
Indeed he was.

William Nack talks more about his character, again, especially related to baseball's integration.

And so, while I think President Barack Obama isn't liberal enough, he had the right personal touch two years ago. From the Post-Dispatch:
President Barack Obama presented Musial with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian, at the White House on Feb 15, 2011.
Go read the story, and keep an eye there. Here's another good P-D story, from his 92nd birthday last November. And, here's a year-by-year blow of his career. Tim Kurkjian has a great tribute at ESPN.

I never met him in person, but did see enough of him on TV, hear him talk, etc., to take him as being genuine. Yes, he reportedly had a grudge against Garagiola in later years, but, if that's the worst about him, it's not too bad, eh?

Especially his political activism in an era when that wasn't common, and certainly not on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Meanwhile, yes, Earl Weaver died too; a good Post-Dispatch write-up here. And, perhaps not known to everybody, he grew up in St. Louis himself. 

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