Frequently what is passed off as a coincidence may have deeper roots than that. Believe it or not, I started writing this post last week. Then on Saturday night, as my son and I ate dinner at the Corner Pub and Grill, he looked at his smartphone and said casually, "Stan Musial died." And so another one of our heroes is gone, and a chapter in my life is complete.
But this is not a memorial for Stan I write. It is a look back to 1949, because I happened to come across an old Life Magazine while looking for an article on Charlie Chaplin and saw this.
The pennant race between the Cards and the Dodgers was in the home stretch. For the very young, a pennant race was just that, two teams battling it out to see who plays in the World Series. "Play-offs" and "Wild Cards" were as yet undreamed of. And in this year, 4 years following the end of World War II (good guys and bad guys clearly defined), Life Magazine ran a story on that: "Yanks or Red Sox? Cards or Dodgers?"
This pictures the two best second basemen in the game: Jackie Robinson and Red Schoendienst. Unfortunately Red fell down while trying to catch a wild throw from the catcher and Jackie went to third. It would be several years before the Cardinals put a black man on their roster.
But the line I like best is "Can Stan the Man Beat the Brooklyns?"
The article says, "The principal reason the Dodgers are worried about the Cardinals is Stan the Man Musial. Although Musial has been having only a fair season (for him), Dodger pitchers cannot seem to get him out."
I love this photo of Stan because he is not up at bat in that familiar stance. He's sliding. The caption reads, "Cardinals hope for the pennant, Outfielder Stan Musial is safe at third after tripling against Chicago. Despite a poor start Musial, 1948 batting champion, was hitting .319 last week." Yep, Stan had turned a double into a triple with his customary hustle.
Since his passing, the newspapers and the networks and the blogs and the columnists have just about used up all the appropriate adjectives and phrases that describe Stan's achievements, his life, his demeanor, his selflessness. I have memories of Stan, as we all do. Not just at Sportsman's Park, but a night I spent with him and Henry Ruggieri and Joe Gargiola in San Francisco in 1960, when I lived there and they were in S.F. for the opening of Candlestick Park. I have an autographed baseball, an autographed book, a menu from Musial and Biggies. I used to have a Bowman's black and white baseball card of Stan, but my mother threw them away when I was in the Army and they moved. (Get over it, Gerry) Those, along with my EC Comics (seriously, get over it).
Sometimes I think I'd like to be 25 or 30 years old again, be around for whatever tomorrow brings. But I'm not so sure these days. And I sure am happy I didn't miss the pure excitement of watching the Cardinals take the field, with number 6 in the lineup, and anticipate what he might do that day. He and Slaughter and Schoendienst and Kurowski and Breechen and the others.
I followed the standings, watched Stan's batting average climb up through the 300's, his home run totals move to the top of the list, loved his easy way of coming through in the clutch to win a game with a long ball and watch his easy stride around the bases. No big deal, no fists pumped in the air. It was just his job, to play the best he could. And he always did. I didn't know it at the time, but when the Cards finally got around to adding black players to the roster, Stan was the one who welcomed them, in a city that had more trouble adjusting to the new reality.
I'll always carry those thrilling memories of Stan the Man. He was a part of my life and love of baseball. As long as there is someone to announce, "Play ball," Stan will be out there, a singular example of what a ballplayer, an athlete and a man should be.