Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Dave Faries
Editor 

Learning From The Man

 


The Man died on Saturday.

On the surface, Stanley Frank Musial was one of the greatest hitters ever to step onto a baseball diamond. A member of the Hall of Fame, a 24-time all star, player of the decade, 475 home runs, a lifetime batting average of .331—there’s no way around his stature on the field. Back his playing days, between 1941 and 1963, a songwriter even plugged the line “he’s the finest in the land, swingin’ Stan the Man” into a ditty dedicated the Cardinals’ legend.

Now, I grew up hearing stories of Musial and his exploits. St. Louis went to four World Series in his first five seasons with the team. I used to walk past his bronze likeness outside the old Busch Stadium and thrill at the phrase on its pedestal: “Baseball’s Perfect Warrior.”

You see, not all of the stories my parents told related to the manner in which he lacerated major league pitchers.

Musial was a role model in so many ways. He married his high school sweetheart and they remained together until she died, raising four children. He was never thrown out of a game and rarely showed even the slightest disagreement with an umpire’s decision. He refused to call attention to himself or his evident abilities.

The Man earned his nickname neither from awestruck teammates nor a personal need to take center stage. Rather, it was slapped on him one day after a St. Louis sportswriter heard a murmur running through the crowd at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field every time Musial strode toward the plate.

Bob Broeg—the writer in question—strained to decipher the noticeable buzz. A counterpart from a New York paper told him Dodgers’ fans were saying “here comes the man again.”

“That man?” Broeg asked.

“No,” the other writer explained. “THE man.”

He was a model of perseverance. A pitcher in the minor leagues, Musial was so wild one manager entreated the Cardinals to dump him and move on. Instead of succumbing to self-pity, Musial volunteered to fill in as a reserve outfielder when not flailing away from the mound.

One afternoon he injured his pitching arm diving for a looping liner. He got up, dusted himself off and began to hit—no moaning, no giving up.

Branch Rickey, then Cardinals’ general manager, recalled visiting with Musial’s minor league manager after the injury.

“Have you heard of an outfielder named Musial?” the manager asked.

Rickey responded that he knew of an ineffective pitcher by that name, sent down to throw batting practice.

“I want to show you where he hit a ball,” the manager said.

But what really made Stan Musial a role model—The Man—was an incident in the winter following the 1946 season.

At the time, most major league players earned salaries in the middle and upper middle class range. They were also bound to their teams by something called the “reserve clause,” which dictated that their contract belong to the club, even after the agreement’s terms expired.

Players held little leverage in salary negotiations.

Jorge Pasquel, the wealthy president of Mexico’s baseball league, understood this and offered lucrative contracts to several major league stars if they would “jump” to one of his teams—and several took his money.

Pasquel visited Musial and opened a briefcase filled with more cash than The Man earned in a year. It was his if he would travel south of the border.

Musial looked at the money and then at his infant son. However tempting the offer, he knew he could never again look his son in the eye if he broke a contract with the Cardinals and their fans.

Quiet performance, humility, perseverance and an overriding sense of honor—these traits more than any of the records and statistics he compiled made Stanley Frank Musial The Man.

He was, in every sense of the phrase, baseball’s perfect warrior.

 

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