photo of Stan Musial from 1953 Bowman
trading card via Wikimedia Commons
Bob Costas was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Monday night. In one of the unaired, Web-only clips from their extended interview, Costas shared a nice anecdote about baseball great Stan Musial, who passed away on Jan. 19th at the age of 92. I find the story particularly appropriate to share on Jackie Robinson's birthday, as we celebrate not just No. 42 but those who accepted him.
Musial was a dream come true for both those who love seeing poetry in their statistics and those who love seeing the game played the right way.
During a couple of my years away from the comics world and without an Internet connection, I was fortunate enough to live next to a library. I mostly read nonfiction and young-adult fantasy as neither my comprehension nor my retention were great (not that they're where I'd like them to be now) — essentially, I needed books that weren't too complex for me to follow as I read or to remember where I left off if I had to stop for a while. One area of interest into which I got to delve more deeply, being freed not by choice but by circumstance from having to stay current with the latest in and about my hobby-turned-profession, was baseball; I read up a little on the likes of Musial, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle.
It's somehow rewarding to find that a great man in a field you appreciate is a great guy, a mensch, as well. Stan "the Man" Musial — notable to my comics-reading, non-baseball-following friends as the source of Stan Lee's most prominent nickname — was by all accounts as admirable off the field as he was on it. I just came across a remembrance of Musial written by Ben Reiter for Sports Illustrated's Inside Baseball column to that effect.
What led me to that column was Jay Jaffe's Hit and Run blogpost on Musial at the same site. Jaffe provides a look at the numbers from Musial's 22 years in the major leagues, all of them played for the St. Louis Cardinals, which show that while one can argue whether Musial's status as a solid citizen and teammate is more significant than his performance as an athlete it's an argument that diminishes how special it is that he was both. In a sport where longevity and reliability are to be prized if often overlooked, Jaffe notes that Musial's batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall in the top ten of players with at least 10,000 plate appearances. Not only do his 3,630 hits still rank behind only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Hank Aaron in the history of Major League Baseball, they were famously divided evenly between home and away games: 1,815 hits at Sportsman's Park/Busch Stadium and 1,815 on the road.
One curious thing about the man born Stanislaw Franciszek Musial is that his last name engenders such wide variations in pronunciation. The most common interpretations based on standard English usage would probably be "myoo-zee-ul" or "myoo-zul" if not "myoo-zhul" — the latter being how the Musial family apparently said it. Yet in the above-linked clip, Jon Stewart uses the oddly prevalent "myoo-zhoo-ul". I also hear "myoo-zih-ul" sometimes, like the word "musical" without the "c" (and that is, after all, how you spell "Musial").
Another curious thing is that in his 22-year career Musial played in an astounding 24 All-Star Games. That's because from 1959 through 1962 Major League Baseball held two All-Star Games each year. Only Hank Aaron and Willie Mays played in as many as Musial, with Mays likewise being selected 24 times in 20 years and Aaron (the acknowledged record-holder) being selected 25 times in 21 years but having to skip the first of two All-Star Games in 1961 due to injury. Musial wasn't eligible for the Midsummer Classic in 1945, the only year out of his first five full seasons that the Cardinals didn't make it to the World Series, because he was on leave from the Cardinals to serve in the Navy.
Related Posts: Harry Kalas 1936-2009;