Stan The Man was the greatest St. Louis Cardinal of all time. That's not a biased, unqualified opinion. I'm not editorializing. Cardinal baseball fans in St. Louis and throughout Cardinal Nation and beyond will agree that Stan Musial was the best player ever to put on a St. Louis Cardinal uniform.
I grew up a dyed-in-red Cardinal fan, and I worshipped Mr. Musial, No. 6, who was recruited Saturday afternoon at age 92 to play baseball on the diamonds of Heaven.
Musial got his nickname, rather ironically, from some true-blue Dodger fans. Back when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn, and Stan was not yet as famous, some fans at Ebbets Field called him "that man," as in: "Here comes that man." St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg picked up on it and came up with "Stan the Man." It stuck.
How great was Stan the Man? The year I was a one-year-old rugrat, he led the league in 10 offensive categories. In another year, in a game against the Boston Braves, he was injured and in pain, yet he smashed five hits in five swings. The stories and feats go on and on. Stan retired with a .331 batting average. Think about it; the Man played 22 seasons, all with the Cardinals, and ended up with a lifetime batting average of .331. He ended up with 475 homeruns, and he was not considered a homerun hitter. He captured seven batting titles. He was crowned Most Valuable Player three times. He was a World Series champion three times. He still leads the Redbirds in six categories – they include homeruns, runs batted in, hits and walks – yet he retired a half-century ago.
My first, personal memories of Stan go back to summer nights when I was a young kid, and I would listen to Cardinal baseball games in my room on the blue, plastic, General Electric radio that sat on my night stand. I didn't mind that the summer nights were so hot and humid, and we had no air conditioning, because Harry Caray's voice would come out of the radio and say, "Live, from Sportsman's Park, the St. Louis Cardinals are on the air," or something like that. And then I'd listen, while St. Louis native Caray and
fellow announcer Jack Buck would describe all the baseball drama and excitement as Stan the Man and the boys would thrill us with another great Cardinal game.
I got to see the Man and our other Cardinal heroes play live and in person at Sportsman's Park once a year, thanks to the local Lion's Club. The organization would charter a bus or buses for us young Redbird fans and then chaperone us to a real, live game. Besides being mesmerized by Stan and the team – right down there below us, on that big-league field – I remember the green, green grass of the outfield and the smooth, brown dirt of the infield diamond. Most of all, though, I recall all of us sitting on the edges of our seats when Stan the Man was taking his at-bats, standing at the plate in his uniquely identifiable stance. The finest moments came when he rapped the ball, and we heard that loud crack of the ash-wood bat smacking that hardball, and we watched the baseball drive up against the wall or into the gap or over the wall.
My absolutely greatest Musial-related memory is of my absolutely greatest birthday. I turned 12 years old, and my parents took me to Curt Smith's Sporting Goods on Main Street in Belleville, Ill., to buy me my birthday present. It was a Stan Musial model Rawlings Trapeze baseball glove. It was not a youth model; it was a regular Rawlings Trapeze mitt, with Stan Musial's name emblazoned on it. If you've seen the movie, "A Christmas Story," and you remember how Ralphie said that his Red Ryder air rifle was the greatest present he ever received or ever would receive – well then – you can imagine how I felt about that baseball glove.
But wait; there's more. After leaving the sporting goods store, my folks took me to Musial and Biggie's Restaurant in St. Louis. Stan Musial and Julius "Biggie" Garagnani partnered up in 1949 to open one good restaurant, and it was still going famously for my 12th birthday in 1959. I remember I was disappointed that Stan the Man was not at the restaurant that particular night, but the rainbow trout dinner I ordered remains to this day the most memorable meal of my life. I can still see in my mind – quite clearly, mind you – the maître d' bringing my plate to the table and lighting my trout on fire. The magical flame lasted only briefly, and then he deboned the fish for me. Hey, I was only 12, so I was very impressed. What a show! Then I got to chow down on some delicious fish. What a birthday!
In my bedroom today are two baseball bats. One is a Ken Boyer model, 34-inch Louisville Slugger. The other is a 34-inch Hank Aaron model. No Stan Musial model, you ask? Well, the Aaron bat is not a Louisville Slugger, but rather a northern white ash bat made by Stan-the-Man Inc. of St. Louis, Mo. I look at it every day. Sometimes I carry it around the house or take swings with it for exercise. It's going to mean a little more to me when I glance at it or pick it up now. I'll always be thinking of Stan the Man.
Stan Musial was a truly decent man, an outstanding American citizen, and a genuine St. Louis public hero. He was an absolutely fantastic baseball player. Stan the Man was the greatest Cardinal of all time.