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Stan was the man in St. Louis

Stan Musial's career statistics

Chat wrap: Bob Costas on Stan Musial

Musial was gentleman killer
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

"He didn't hit a homer in his last at-bat; he hit a single. He didn't hit in 56 straight games. He married his high school sweetheart and stayed married to her, never married a Marilyn Monroe. He didn't play with the sheer joy and style that goes alongside Willie Mays' name. None of those easy things are there to associate with Stan Musial. All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being," says Bob Costas on ESPN's SportsCentury series.

About half a century before Mark McGwire became The Man, there was another prominent St. Louis Cardinal who was called "The Man" -- almost like it was part of his name. As in Stan the Man.

Stan Musial had 3,630 hits during his 22-year career.

Stan Musial was accorded the nickname in Brooklyn, by a Flatbush faithful. As Musial strode to the plate at Ebbets Field in 1946, a fan lamented, "Uh, oh. Here comes the man again; here comes the man."

Stan the Man didn't just terrorize Dodgers pitchers; he battered just about all National League moundsmen. "He'd kill you," Boston Braves pitcher Johnny Sain said, "but he was a gentleman."

A lefthanded hitter who stood 5-foot-10 and weighed 175 pounds, the gentlemanly Musial batted in an unusual crouch, with his No. 6 turned almost squarely to the pitcher. Moving his hips to stay loose and with his left leg bent to support his weight as he strode to follow the pitch, Musial uncoiled like a rattlesnake, cracking line drives to all fields.

"I started to crouch because that way I could guard the plate better, and I always wanted to hit .300 in the big leagues," he said.

Musial did -- in each of his first 17 seasons. The first to play in more than 1,000 games at two positions, the outfielder-first baseman won seven batting titles (one less than the NL record held by Honus Wagner and Tony Gwynn) in his 22-year Hall-of-Fame career, compiling a lifetime average of .331 and on-base percentage of .418. He retired in 1963 with then-NL records for games (3,026), at-bats (10,972) and hits (3,630), which, rather remarkably, were divided into 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road.

He was the first NL player to win three MVPs, the last coming in 1948 when, in one of the game's most extraordinary seasons, Musial missed winning the Triple Crown by one homer. His 1,377 extra-base hits and 6,134 total bases are more than anybody except Hank Aaron (yes, the Man had more than the Babe). His 725 doubles (leading the league a major league record-tying eight times) are third all-time and he hit 177 triples. His speed gave him another nickname, "The Donora Greyhound." His 1,951 RBI are fifth (10 seasons with more than 100) and his 1,949 runs are sixth (11 seasons with at least 105).

He led the NL in slugging percentage and total bases six times each. His .376 average of 1948 was bettered only once in the NL -- by Gwynn's .394 in 1994 -- for the rest of the 20th century. Musial's 475 homers are the most of any player who didn't win a home-run title.

Preacher Roe, when asked how he pitched to Musial, said, "I throw him four wide ones then try to pick him off first base."

And to think that all Musial's hitting feats were accomplished by the child who dreamed of being a major league pitcher.

He was born on Nov. 21, 1920, in Donora, Pa., the first son and second youngest of six children of a Czech mother and a Polish immigrant father who worked in the local zinc mine. By the time he was in high school, Stash (the nickname for Stanislaus) was excelling in baseball and basketball.

Lukasz, Stan's father, wanted his son to attend college and avoid working in the mines or in a steel mill. But the youngster, a C-student, was intent on becoming a baseball player. After his father rejected a minor league contract, Stan wept. His mother, Mary, interceded and convinced her husband to allow their son a chance to pursue his goal.

In 1940, in his third year in the Cardinals' organization, he was 18-5, giving him a minor league record of 33-13. But by then, he also was playing in the outfield at Class D Daytona Beach when he wasn't pitching because he was such a skilled hitter. That August, he injured his left shoulder in the outfield so severely that his pitching days were over at 19.

"My spikes gave way, and I landed on my left shoulder," Musial said. "My arm never did get better. I couldn't throw hard from then on. It never bothered my hitting. Even if I didn't hurt my arm, I think somewhere along the line, somebody would have switched me over to an outfielder anyway because my hitting was always good."

In 1941, he progressed from a lame-armed Class C outfielder to hitting .426 (20-for-47) as a late-season Cardinal call-up. The next year, at 21, he was the regular leftfielder and hit .315, helping St. Louis to the first of three consecutive pennants and a World Series triumph over the Yankees.

Musial exploded in 1943, leading the majors in batting (.357), slugging percentage (.562), hits (220), doubles (48) and triples (20). He struck out just 18 times in 701 plate appearances in winning his first MVP award.

He batted .347 (second highest average in the majors) in 1944, and the Cardinals, who lost the 1943 Series to the Yankees, regained the world championship by beating the crosstown Browns.

He missed the 1945 season as he served as a seaman first class in the Navy from January 1945 to March 1946, seeing duty at Pearl Harbor. When he returned in 1946, there were questions whether Musial had accomplished so much because of inferior players during World War II. He answered his critics by leading the league with a .365 average, .587 slugging percentage, 228 hits, 50 doubles and 20 triples in winning his second MVP.

The Cardinals also won their fourth pennant in Musial's four full seasons and went on to beat Boston in the Series. In his final 17 seasons, Musial would never play in another Fall Classic.

In 1948, Musial led the league in 10 categories, most by huge margins. He had 103 extra-base hits (28 more than his nearest competitor), 429 total bases (113 more), .702 slugging percentage (138 more), .376 average (43 points higher), 230 hits (40 more), .450 on-base percentage (27 points higher), 135 runs (18 more) and career-high 131 RBI (six more), 46 doubles (six more) and 18 triples (six more). However, his career-high 39 homers left him one behind Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner.

On May 2, 1954 in St. Louis, Musial became the first major leaguer to hit five homers in a doubleheader.
In 1954, Stan Musial became the first major leaguer to hit five homers in a doubleheader.
After homering three times in the opener against the New York Giants, he homered twice off of knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm in the nightcap.

At the 1955 All-Star Game, as Musial stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the 12th, American League catcher Yogi Berra told him, "My feet are killing me." Musial replied, "Relax, I'll have you home in a minute." And then he homered on the next pitch to win the game for the NL. It was one of Musial's record six homers in 24 All-Star Games, another record.

In 1957, at 36, Musial won his last batting title, hitting .351. Five years later, he batted .330. Franchise advisor Branch Rickey said that Musial should retire on such an accomplishment, but Musial said that Rickey's advice was "embarrassing." It also turned out to be accurate, as Musial slumped to .255 in his final season.

Upon his retirement, Commissioner Ford Frick said, "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."

That quotation is inscribed on the pedestal of the 10-foot bronze statue of "The Man" that has stood outside Busch Stadium since 1968.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him director of the National Council on Physical Fitness. Three years later, Musial became the Cardinals general manager, taking the job at the urging of manager Red Schoendienst, his former road roommate. The Cardinals won the Series and then Musial stepped down as GM, but remained as a team vice president.

Musial has remained active in several business enterprises, including his St. Louis restaurant.

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