Monday, July 21, 2008

Baseball's Perfect Knight

In discussions about the all-time best ballplayers, I think Stan Musial rarely gets the attention he deserves (outside of St. Louis, at least).

The guy was a career 331 / 417 / 559 hitter. He never had an OPS+ of even 100. Not in the 12 games he played in as a 20 year-old (179 OPS+); not in his last season as a 42 year-old (101 OPS+); and not any year in between. He had a career mark of 159 (good for 15th all-time), and cleared 150 eleven times. He won 3 MVP awards and came in second four other times. He was a 20 time All-Star. Musial won 7 batting titles; hit 475 career home runs, but also lead the league in doubles 8 times and triples 5 times; and just for good measure he had over twice as many walks as strike-outs. His nickname says it all; he was Stan “The Man”. (And that was given to him by opposing fans.)

Beyond his exemplary baseball accomplishments, Musial was, by all accounts, one of the classiest players to ever grace a field. This is a great story recounted by Joe Posnanski:
“There was this game, in ‘52, that year the Today Show came to television and the Diary of Anne Frank was published, and the Musial’s Cardinals trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by two runs in the ninth. The bases were loaded. There were two outs. Musial faced pitcher Ben Wade. The two battled briefly, and then Musial connected — a long home run to right field. Grand slam. Everyone in the stadium stood and cheered wildly — what could be bigger, a grand slam in the ninth to beat the hated Dodgers — and Musial started to run around the bases in his own inimitable way, not too fast, not too slow, all class. And it wasn’t until he rounded first and was closing in on second when everyone seemed to notice at once that the third base umpire was holding up his arms. A ball had rolled on the field just before the pitch. The umpire had called timeout.

Home plate umpire Tom Gorman realized he had no choice. He disallowed the home run. The stadium went black. The fans went mad. St. Louis manager Solly Hemus raced out the dugout, got into Gorman’s face and called him every name he could think of — finally Gorman had no choice and threw him out of the game. Peanuts Lowrey came in like a tag-team wrestler and picked up where Solly left off — Gorman tossed him too. Before it was done, Gorman threw out six Cardinals. He felt like a cowboy in one of those old Westerns clearing out the saloon, throwing out people through plate glass windows.

And then Musial, who in the confusion had not been told anything, walked over to Gorman. He calmly asked, “What happened Tom? It didn’t count, huh?” Gorman nodded sadly and said the third base umpire had called timeout.

“Well, Tom,” Musial said, “there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Stan Musial stepped back in the box while fists shook and boos and threats echoed around him. He promptly tripled off the top of the center field wall to score three runs and give the Cardinals the victory anyway.

“Stan,” Tom Gorman said after the game ended, “is in a class by himself.””
That is so beautiful, I get a little teary-eyed when I read it. Here's another one from a commenter at Baseball-Fever:
"A high school buddy of mine was at Cooperstown with his folks back in the 80's. Musial and some other HOF'er were there for some event, and they come walking in to the restaurant that my buddy and his parents were eating at. The place stops as the legends get seated. My buddy's father about sh1ts down both pant legs with excitement. "That's Stan the Man! Stan the Man!" he could not believe it and was stammering like a little kid. Growing up in the midwest, he knew all about Musial, as he was about 10 when Stan was in his prime. He tells his son (who knows who Musial is as well) to go get an autograph.

So my buddy goes over, and asks Musial. Musial promptly pulls out a chair and tells him to sit down.... asks him where he's from.... does he play ball.... etc. My buddy tells Musial that its' his fathers Birthday, and they are enjoying the HOF. blah blah blah. The father is about in tears, watching with the biggest grin possible on a human beings' face as his own son sits down at Musial's table for about 5 minutes. Stan eventually gets around to signing his ball, and sends my buddy back to his family.

Musial and his group finish their lunch before my buddy and his family do, and instead of leaving, Musial walks over to their table. The father is stammering all over again, and can barely extend his hand to shake Stan The Man's hand, such is his excitement.

Musial pulls out his HARMONICA, and proceeds to play Happy Birthday to You for the father. After the tune, Stan waves and walks out.....

The family finishes their meal, one they will remember for the rest of their lives (I'm proof of that, having heard the story about a dozen times)... and they ask their waitress for their check. The waitress says....

"Sir....... Mr. Musial took care of it. Have a nice day!""

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