Stan the Man
Born to Be a Ballplayer
by Jerry Lansche
published by Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas
Here stands baseball's perfect warrior.
Here stands baseball's perfect knight.
--Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick
How good was Stan Musial? He was good
enough to take your breath away.
--Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully
Branch Rickey, quoted in the October 12, 1963, issue of The Sporting News, said, "That preliminary move Stanley uses at the plate is a fraud. When the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, that is the time you take a picture of a batsman to determine the correctness of his form. Now the ball has been pitched and Stanley takes his true position. He is no longer in a crouch and his bat is full back and so steady a coin wouldn't fall off the end of it. Then the proper stride and the level swing. There is no hitch. He is ideal in form as well as courage."
Hundreds of National and American League hurlers from 1941 through 1963 would attest to the truth of Rickey's description. Hundreds of them stood on the mound, looking in at Stan Musial, many thinking, wrongly, that no batter who looked that silly at the plate could possibly hit the ball. Rogr Kahn, writing in 1957, echoed Rickey's opinion. "He stands there," said Kahn, "stooped but graceful, stirring his bat in a low and languid arc. Then in an instant before the pitcher throws the ball, Musial cocks the bat and crouching severely, twists away from his adversary to that he is staring out of the corners of his eyes. Curled, poised, waiting, Musial is suddenly a cobra coiled for a deadly strike. Even now no one professes to know how to pitch to him. No one likes to try. His bat has shattered each theory as quickly as it was put to test.
More than thirty years after Musial last swung a bat in the major leagues, many baseball fans can still conjure up a picture of the Cardinal legend stepping into the batter's box, planting his left foot on the back line, his right foot twelve inches in front of his left, then loosening up with a few preliminary swings and that distinctive hula-like wiggle. Stan would crouch and come set, peering out over his right shoulder, holding the bat a good two feet from his body. The pitcher would go into his windup, Musial would dip his right knee, and at that moment, in the words of Ted Lyons, he looked like "a small boy looking around a corner to see if the cops are coming."
There was no wasted energy, only a lightning-fast flat swing that would often result in a line drive somewhere. Eyesight, coordination, instinct, timing and speed, all God-given talents, combined with Musial's keen judgment and sharp mind to make him the bane of major-league pitchers and the pride of baseball for over twenty years.
In 1986, writing in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James said:
The image of Musial seems to be fading quickly. Maybe I'm wrong, but it doesn't seem to me that you hear much about him anymore, compared to such comparable stars as Mantle, Williams, Mays and DiMaggio, and to the extent that you do hear of him it doesn't seem that the image is very sharp, that anybody really knows what it was that made him different. He was never colorful, never much of an interview. He makes a better statue. What he was was a ballplayer. He hustled. You look at his career totals of doubles and triples, and they'll remind you of something that was accepted while he was active, and has been largely forgotten since: Stan Musial was one player who always left the batter's box on a dead run.
This book began in June, 1992, when my editor at Taylor, Jim Donovan, asked if I'd like to do an autobiography of Honus Wagner, the Hall of Fame shortstop of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although we eventually abandoned the project, my initial research on Wagner got me thinking about another ballplayer who was similar in many respects, Stan Musial. Like Wagner, who took the field and played superstar baseball day after day better than anyone before or since at his position, Musial's reputation has diminished in recent years because he was so uncontroversial. He was a gentle, God-faring human being who engendered the admiration of fans everywhere and the affection of people who'd never seen a baseball game in their lives. First of all, the only scandalous events in Stan's career were the two or three salary holdouts to which he treated himself. Secondly, sports coverage was different in Musial's day from what it is now. Sportswriters weren't hanging on a ballplayer's every word back then the way they do now when some two-bit superstar who couldn't hold Stan's glove imparts a precious pearl of wiscom like, "Well, I just tried to stay within myself." Until late in his career, Musial hardly ever got quoted in the newspapers. One of the byproducts of the intense and pervading press coverage afforded the modern ballplayer is that the sheer volume of it tends to make us forget about the superstars of yesterday.
Stan Musial wasn't a womanizer like the Babe or a mama's boy like Larrupin' Lou. He didn't run out from under his cap like the Say Hey Kid, he didn't marry anybody famous like Joltin' Joe or Leo the Lip, and he never spit at sportswriters like Teddy Ballgame. No backflips like the Wizard, and as near as I could tell from my research, he never had a 900 number like Jose Canseco. (I am rather certain about this.)
Bill James concluded a comparison of Williams and Musial by saying this:
I think he [Williams] was the second-grreatest left-fielder who ever lived. That's not criticism. But if I had to choose between the two of them, I'd take Musial in left field, Musial on the basepaths, Musial in the clubhouse, and Williams only with the wood in his hand. And Stan Musial could hit a little, too.
Could he ever.
When Musial retired, he held almost every conceivable Cardinal record, some fifty major-league and National League marks, seven All-Star Game records, and one World Series record. He was selected to The Sporting News' All-Star Major League team twelve times, named the magazine's Player of the Year twice, was the first recipient of TSN's Player of the Decade, and owned three National League Most Valuable Player awards. In addition to the many honors he received during his long and distinguished playing career, Stan was feared by major-league pitchers, envied by big-league hitters, and had earned the respect of the baseball world, the adoration of baseball fans, and the friendship of everyone he met.