Henry on Musial: Baseball lost its finest man

Here is a telegram (remember those?) that Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry received during the magical October of 2004:

Dear John,

Congratulations on winning the ALCS. This should be a great Series with these two championship teams. Missed you this summer in Boston. I will not be making the trip to Boston this weekend, but I am looking forward to seeing you in St. Louis on Tuesday. Good luck.

Your friend,

Stan Musial

There was a time when Henry’s only goals, he once said, were to land a job in St. Louis and make enough money to buy season tickets to see the Cardinals. In the corner of his office in Fenway Park is an old radio, not unlike the kind Henry grew up listening to Cardinals games on, during a childhood divided between Ford City, Ark., and Quincy, Ill.

"I used to have an old Zenith -- a shortwave, about that size," Henry told me in 2004, before the Sox swept his boyhood idols in the World Series.

"Growing up on a farm in Arkansas, my nearest neighbor was about a mile away. I really didn't have much in the way of playmates. I was a complete introvert. I had a great front yard. People would come to my front yard, friends would come over and play baseball, but I was too shy to ask if I could play.

“The Cardinals were really my world. I had a rich inner life."

His hero, of course, was Stan Musial.

"Stan the Man," Henry said. "He was our Ted Williams.’’

On Saturday, Musial died at the age of 92. He was a three-time MVP, a seven-time batting champion and so beloved in St. Louis there are two statues of the Hall of Famer outside Busch Stadium.

On Sunday, Henry shared his thoughts on Musial’s passing in an e-mail.

“Shortly after I purchased the Florida Marlins, they asked if I would throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. I said no. I saw this as an opportunity to meet Stan Musial. Stan the Man had been my idol as a boy. As a boy, I wore a Cardinal cap so much that my schoolmates called me ‘St. Louie.’ I wore it because Stan wore it.

“When I played in Little League, I adopted his corkscrew stance and his demeanor. His demeanor, so well depicted in George Vecsey’s recent book about Stan, was as much an attraction as his swing.

“I called Stan to ask him if he would throw out the first pitch of the 1999 season in Florida -- even though no one could argue that Stan Musial had any connection with the Marlins. He was delighted. He flew in the night before to stay at our home, played harmonica and he laughed heartily and often. We watched opening night (played in Mexico that year) together on television.

“Before he walked out onto the field for his pitch the next day, he said, ‘I’m not going out there unless you throw one with me. This is a big day for you.’ That’s the kind of person he was.

“He would send me great little gifts over the years after that -- memorabilia -- and inscribe, ‘For a great Musial fan, from Stan.’

“He was everything a boy growing up in the Midwest could aspire to be. He had time for everyone and loved life as much as he loved the game of baseball, Lil and his family. Baseball has lost what many of us who grew up with the Cardinals would say was its finest man.’’