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Stan Musial - Baseball Legend

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An Introduction to the Legends of Baseball | Hank Aaron | Yogi Berra | Ty Cobb | Joe DiMaggio
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I consciously memorised the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider; then, I'd pick up the speed of the ball in the first thirty feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it has crossed the plate.
- Stan Musial when asked for the secret to his hitting.


Stanislaus Musial was born on 21 November, 1920 in Donora, Pennsylvania, 28 miles south of Pittsburg. His father, Lukasz Musial, was a polish immigrant born in Warsaw and his mother, Mary Lancos, was the daughter of Czech immigrants.

Donora was a blue-collar town, and most of its young men were destined to work in one of the many steel mills or coal mines in western Pennsylvania. But Stashu was determined to play baseball.

'I wanted to be a big league ball player from the time I was eight years old,' Musial said. The first toy he remembers ever receiving was a hand-made baseball that his mother sewed together from odds and ends.

The name Stanislaus was Anglicised into Stanley when Musial started school. It became apparent early on that Stan was an exceptional athlete. He was introduced to gymnastics at his father's club, The Polish Falcons. He trained there three times a week beginning at about age nine or ten. The tumbling techniques he learned in Donora helped him avoid injury in the outfield during his professional career.

The young Musial played both baseball and basketball at Donora High School. Although it was his basketball skills that seemed to promise a college scholarship, Musial had his heart set on baseball. His early idols were two great southpaw pitchers, Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell. A southpaw himself, he began his baseball career as a pitcher. No one realised that it would be his batting that would gain him world-wide fame and admiration.

Of his early days in Donora, Musial remarked, 'We didn't have much except kindness. A family of eight... squeezed into a small five-room house... But there was never a time when I didn't have a baseball.'

The Kid from Donora Makes Good

Musial was offered his first professional baseball contract in 1937 at the age of 16. His father immediately rejected the offer, wanting Stan to finish high school and attend college. Musial was so distraught that his mother intervened and Stan's father relented. Stan signed with the St Louis Cardinals organisation, much to the dismay of his fellow Donorans who wanted him to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had also been contacted by the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees.

When asked why he signed with the Cardinals, Musial replied, 'To this day, I don't know why my boyhood favourites, the Pirates, didn't show any early interest. The answer, I guess, is that that far back they just weren't scouting as vigorously as St Louis, which pioneered farm-system baseball, or other clubs that felt the weight of the Cardinals' 'chain gang' Between 1926 and 1937, the year I signed, the Redbirds had won five pennants and three world championships.'

Musial played minor league ball at Williamson, Virginia and Daytona Beach Florida. It was at Daytona Beach where he began doing double duty as a center fielder so the team could have the benefit of his bat on days that he wasn't pitching. The course of his career changed in August 1940 in Orlando. Musial was in the outfield when his spikes caught and he fell heavily onto the point of his left shoulder. He continued to pitch for a while, but his hopes for a major league pitching career were dashed.

In 1941 Musial began the season in Springfield, Missouri playing Class C ball. His throwing arm was still weak, but his batting and base running skills got the attention of the Cardinal scouts and saved him from another season in Class D. Musial was promoted twice during the 1941 season, first to a AA club in Rochester, NY and then to St. Louis and the majors.

In one season, Musial had gone from being a dead-armed pitcher with a Class D team to the outfield of one of the pre-eminent major league teams of the day.

Stan The Man

Musial batted .426 in twelve games at St. Louis in 1941. It wasn't enough to give the Redbirds the pennant, but they made up for it by taking the National League flag and the World Series flag in 1942, 1944 and 1946 and the NL pennant in 1943. Even in that short first year, Chicago's manager, Jimmy Wilson, watched Stan play a double header against his team and said, 'Nobody, but nobody, can be that good'.

Musial won his first batting championship in 1943 with a .357 average, and he led the league in hits, doubles and triples. He won his first National League most valuable player award at age 22. He would go on to win the batting title seven times, the MVP award three times, play in 24 All-Star games and virtually rewrite the National League record book.

Musial did a stint in the Navy in 1945 and returned to baseball even stronger than before he left. He began playing first base but still did duty as an outfielder on occasion. 1947 was an off year by his standards. He only hit .312, which would delight most players, but he was suffering with appendicitis for nearly the entire season. He waited until the season ended to have an operation.

In 1948 he led the league in all the important batting categories except home runs, and he was only one run shy of that record as well1. His famous nickname was given to him in the early 50s by a Dodger fan at Ebbets Field who groaned, 'Uh, Oh. Here comes that man again.' Musial was truly formidable behind the plate. Brooklyn pitcher Preacher Roe claimed to have discovered the best way to pitch to Musial: 'I throw him four wide ones and then I try to pick him off first base'.

When he retired in 1963, Stan Musial held major league records for most extra-base hits and most total bases. He held the National League records for runs, hits, doubles and RBI (runs batted in) He holds the record for the most All-Star homers (6), extra-base hits (8) and total bases (40). He was named the Sporting News Major League Player of the Year twice, the Sporting News Player of the Decade in 1956, and the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1957. Some of his records were later broken by Hank Aaron and his record for most hits in the National league was broken by Pete Rose.

Musial's biggest day at bat came during a doubleheader at Busch Stadium in May 1954 when he became the first baseball player in history to hit five home runs in one day. His wife Lil, who normally attended the games but had stayed home with their ill daughter, missed the great event. Lil had missed another big day 13 years earlier in Springfield when Stan hit three homers for the first time in a single game. She was in attendance, however, for another red-letter day in 1962 when Stan hit three consecutive home runs against the Mets at the Polo Grounds. Added to a game-winning homer in the eighth inning the evening before, Stan tied the major league record for four home runs in consecutive at bats. He later quipped that if Lil had missed that one as well, he didn't think she would have ever spoken to him again.

In 1969, Musial was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That same year the St. Louis Cardinals did something they had never done before. They retired Musial's Uniform, Number 6.

Musial spent his entire career with the St. Louis franchise. Upon retirement he became a Cardinal Vice President and served as the general manager in 1967 when he guided his team to a World Series championship. He was named the Director of the National Council on Physical Fitness by President Lyndon Johnson. In 1968 the Cardinals honoured Musial with a statue outside Busch Memorial Stadium, and he has a star on the St Louis Walk of Fame. In 1972 he achieved the distinction of becoming the first foreigner to receive the Polish government's 'Merited Champions Medal', their highest sports award.

Stan Musial was not only a great baseball player, he was a great representative of the game and a role model for thousands. He avoided controversy and was a gentleman both on and off the field. His life and career contradicts the notion that good guys finish last.

At the 1955 All-Star game, the score was tied, it was the bottom of the 12th and Musial walked to the plate. His good friend Yogi Berra was catching for the American League. Yogi complained to Stan, 'My feet are killing me!' 'Relax,' Musial told him, 'I'll have you home in a minute.' He hit a home run on the next pitch and won the game.

Career Hitting Statistics

GamesAt-Bats HitsDoublesTriplesHome RunsRuns RBIBatting Average
  3026 109723630   725   177      47519491951        .331

1He did hit that extra homer, but the game was rained out and the home run cancelled.

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