A FAREWELL TO THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL
It’s a dark day. Not just a dark day for the Cardinals or a dark day for baseball because he was bigger than the Cardinals and bigger than baseball.
At 5:45 in the afternoon on January 19, 2013, Stan The Man Musial passed away; taking with him an irreplaceably large chunk out of the soul of the city and the world he left behind.
Much will be written about Stan today, tomorrow and for decades to come; a testament to his true greatness as a player and as a man. Likely, these words will get lost in the sea of righteous adorations. Which is fine. It’s just good to know that sea is there.
I’ve never written an obit on this site and likely never will again. Players come and go as all of us do, and while their passings are sometimes notable, few if any are crushing. But it’s more than worth doing for Stan, who after retaining a spotless public record for 92 years was without competition the greatest combination of ballplayer and man humanity has ever seen.
Unlike anyone else, Stan Musial‘s statistics had a knack for describing him rather than defining him. When he retired in 1963, he held the all-time records for extra base hits, games played, total bases, NL hits, NL doubles and NL RBI (keeping in mind he did this even after losing his age 24 season to Navy service in World War II). Yet years went on, superstars emerged, and one by one, Stan’s records fell to the likes of Pete Rose and Hank Aaron. But in all that time, not one inch was subtracted from his stature.
There are two statistics that stand out above all. The first is that Stan had 1815 career hits on the road and 1815 career hits at home. The second is that he was ejected zero times in a career that spanned 3026 games over 22 seasons. It’s hard to deduce any kind of humanity from any set of numbers, but those two do a pretty remarkable job of it.
Yet, as mentioned before, there are still-greater players with still-greater statistical achievements who won’t be memorialized in this column when they pass. That’s because Stan was more than his numbers.
He retired in 1963, and very few Cardinal fans have ever even seen him play. Yet he was and remains a demigod in St. Louis, regarded higher than any other who had gone before or after him, including all-time elites Rogers Hornsby and Albert Pujols. And it was because of his humanity. Because as great as Stan Musial was, he didn’t think he was better than you. He was a key figure in race relations for what was once the most ardently prejudiced in all the Majors. He always signed every autograph. He was of the all-too-rare breed of human being that wanted and was able to be everyone’s friend.
He went mostly forgotten nationally, forever overshadowed by the lesser Joe DiMaggio, whose accomplishments were exalted by the New York media machine. But we knew what we had in this Man, and knowing Stan, that was just the way he wanted it to be.