Musial was gentleman killer
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
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 was accorded the nickname in Brooklyn, by a Flatbush faithful. As Musial strode to the plate at Ebbets Field, 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 5-10 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 Honus Wagner's National League record) in his 22-year career, compiling a lifetime average of .331 and on-base percentage of .418. He retired in 1963 with then-National League 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 National League 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 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 National League in slugging percentage and total bases six times each. In the last 50 seasons, his .376 average of 1948 has been bettered only once in the National League -- by Tony Gwynn's .394 in 1994. Musial also belted 475 homers, the most of any player who didn't win a home-run title.
Dodgers pitcher 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 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 age 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 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 the Cardinals to the first of three consecutive pennants and a World Series triumph over the Yankees.
Musial exploded in 1943, leading the league in batting (.357), slugging percentage (.562), hits (220), doubles (48) and triples (20) as he won his first MVP. He batted .347 (second highest average in the majors) in 1944, and the Cardinals, who lost the 1943 Series, regained the world championship by beating the cross-town 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 for the 1946 season, 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 the Boston Red Sox in the Series. In his final 17 seasons, Musial would never play in another Series.
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 39 homers, a career high, 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. After homering three times in the opener against the 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 National League. It was one of Musial's record six homers in 24 All-Star Games, another record.
In 1957, at age 36, Musial won his last batting title, hitting .351. Five years later, as a 41-year-old grandfather, 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.
The year before, Musial had been 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 vice president.
President Lyndon Johnson appointed him director of the National Council on Physical Fitness and Musial has remained active in several business enterprises, including his St. Louis restaurant.