Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The Dodgers and Stan "the Man"
By Mark Saxon
Stan Musial had a career 1.032 OPS against the Dodgers.
That's only slightly worse than his numbers against the team he punished the most (though for a shorter period), the New York Mets (1.198) and a little better than the way he fared against his third-most comfortable team to face, the Giants (1.027).
There's a reason Brooklyn fans stuck him with the nickname "The Man," chanting it when Musial came to the plate at Ebbets Field one day when he was 25. He absolutely embarrassed Dodgers pitching, along with that of the other New York teams. It was such a sight to see, some Dodgers fans actually began to root for Musial.
That is only one angle into Musial's greatness, of course, and, really, just a pretext for me to write one of 1,000s of well-deserved remembrances of Musial, from a kid who grew up in St. Louis County a couple of generations after Musial retired. Musial died Saturday in St. Louis at the age of 92.
I've only seen the black-and-white footage of the corkscrew stance and Musial's menacing swing and disarming smile. Occasionally, over the years, I've been mildly annoyed that Musial was often ignored while cults grew around stars like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, who played in New York. Musial, who played all 22 seasons in St. Louis, led the league in hitting seven times. Seven times!
I mostly heard about Musial from my dad, Leonard, who was 10 when Musial made his debut. Leonard grew up -- like every other kid in St. Louis then -- worshiping at the altar of Musial, gasping at his ability to square up baseballs, sending line drives into every corner of the stadium. My grandfather worked unloading mail at Union Station, so my dad could rarely afford tickets. He and his friends used to sneak into Sportsman Park or just walk right in late in the game, when security was lax.
My dad was 12 for Musial's first World Series and 16 for his last. Baseball tends to work in cycles in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are really, really good every other decade, it seems. I was 12 when the Cardinals made the 1982 World Series and 17 when they made it in 1987.
My father, 82, is not a big baseball fan nowadays, but everybody was back then, especially in St. Louis. Later, he played in a card game hosted by legendary broadcaster Jack Buck. Musial would sometimes drop in. Growing up, the one thing my dad always said about Musial: He was just a nice man.
Everybody said that about him, from Mays to someone he may have spent five minutes chatting with one humid night at Busch Stadium.
I tried to call Musial last year to ask him about Albert Pujols, particularly Pujols' avoidance of the "El Hombre," nickname in deference to Musial. I was told, politely, by an assistant that Musial wasn't doing interviews by then.
I was sad when I read Sunday that Musial was gone. He was the original legend from my childhood, the backdrop for Ozzie Smith, just as Smith would be the backdrop for the next generation, for Albert Pujols. In 15 years, young Cardinals fans will only have heard stories about what Pujols could do.
Pujols knows. We all know. There was only one Stan the Man.