January 20, 2013

Three-time MVP and Cards great Musial dies at 92

Stan Musial spent a 22-year career in St. Louis, taking seven batting titles and three World Series.

The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Stan Musial, one of baseball’s greatest hitters and a Hall of Famer with the St. Louis Cardinals for more than two decades, died Saturday. He was 92.

click image to enlarge

Hall of Famer Stan Musial, one of baseball's greatest hitters and a Hall of Famer with the Cardinals for more than two decades, died Saturday, the team announced. He was 92.

2006 file photo/The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Stan Musial held 55 records when he retired in 1963 after 22 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. His nickname was Stan The Man, one that he truly deserved.

The Associated Press

Stan the Man won seven National League batting titles, was a three-time MVP and helped the Cardinals capture three World Series titles in the 1940s.

The Cardinals said he died Saturday night at his home surrounded by family.

Musial was so revered in St. Louis, two statues of him stand outside Busch Stadium. He spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals and made the All-Star team 24 times; baseball held two All-Star games each summer for a few seasons.

A pitcher in the low minors until he injured his arm, Musial turned to playing the outfield and first base. He went on to hit .331 with 475 home runs before retiring in 1963.

Widely considered the greatest Cardinals player, Musial was the first person in team history to have his number retired. Ol’ 6 probably was the most popular, too, especially after Albert Pujols skipped town.

At the suggestion of a pal, the actor John Wayne, he carried around autographed cards to give away. He enjoyed doing magic tricks for kids and was fond of pulling out a harmonica to entertain crowds with a favorite, “The Wabash Cannonball.”

Humble, scandal-free, and eager to play every day, Musial struck a chord with fans throughout the Midwest and beyond. For much of his career, St. Louis was the most western outpost in the majors, and the Cardinals’ vast radio network spread word about him.

Farmers in the field and families on the porch tuned in, as did a future president; Bill Clinton recalled doing his homework listening to Musial’s exploits.

Musial’s public appearances dwindled in recent years, though he took part in the pregame festivities at Busch during the 2011 postseason as the Cardinals won the World Series. And he was at the White House in February 2011 when President Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor for contributions to society.

He certainly delivered at bat.

Musial never struck out 50 times in a season. He led the NL in most every hitting category for at least one year, except homers. He hit a career-high 39 home runs in 1948, one short of winning the Triple Crown.

In all, Musial held 55 records when he retired in 1963. Fittingly the accolades on his bronze Hall plaque start off with this fact, rather than flowery prose: “Holds many National League records …”

He played nearly until his 43rd birthday, adding to his totals. He got a hit with his final swing, sending an RBI single past Cincinnati’s rookie second baseman – Pete Rose, who would break Musial’s league hit record of 3,630 some 18 years later.

Of those hits, Musial got exactly 1,815 at home and exactly 1,815 on the road. He also finished with 1,951 RBI and scored 1,949 runs.

All that balance despite an unorthodox left-handed stance. Legs and knees close together, he would cock the bat near his ear and twist his body away from the pitcher. When the ball came, he uncoiled.

Asked to describe the habits that kept him in baseball for so long, Musial once said: “Get eight hours of sleep regularly. Keep your weight down, run a mile a day. If you must smoke, try light cigars. They cut down on inhaling.”

One last thing, he said: “Make it a point to bat .300.”

Musial began his baseball career as a pitcher in the low minors. And by his account, as he said during his induction speech in Cooperstown, an injury had left him as a “dead, left-handed pitcher just out of Class D.”

Hoping to still reach the majors, he turned toward another position, just what he needed.

Musial made his major league debut late in 1941, the season Ted Williams batted .406 for the Boston Red Sox.

Dodgers pitcher Preacher Roe once joked about how to handle Musial: “I throw him four wide ones and then I try to pick him off first base.”

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