Saturday January 19th was not a good day for Major League Baseball. In the morning, we learned of the passing of Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver. The former long-time skipper of the Baltimore Orioles left us at the age of 82. Then we learned later that evening of the death of Stan Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals legend who passed away at the age of 92. I would like to reflect on the career of Musial, a true legend who if he played in New York, Boston, Los Angeles or San Francisco would have been already confirmed as a deity. In fact, one could make the case that he was just as good as Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and other greats around that era. Perhaps one could say that he was better than some or all of them. Indeed, if you look at his career numbers they were nothing short of extraordinary.
Let us start with something I learned while reading his career numbers. You wouldn’t think a guy who clobbered 475 home runs and drove in 1,951 runs would be much of a baserunner. Yet, Stan the Man led the National League in triples five times including 20 in one season. He also led the league in doubles eight times. Musial was a seven-time batting champion who finished with a lifetime average of .331. In 1946, the first of his three MVP seasons, Stan led the NL in 11 different categories including batting average (.365), runs scored (124), doubles (50), triples (20), hits (228) and slugging (.587) to go along with 16 homers and 103 RBI’s. His best season might have been 1948 in which he led the league in RBI’s with 131, average at .375, runs with 135, doubles and triples with 46 and 18 respectively, 135 runs scored, 230 hits and an amazing 429 total bases. Besides his three MVP awards, Musial placed in the top ten for that race eleven times including four second place finishes. In 1962 at the age of 41, the Man hit .331 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI’s. At the time of his retirement after the 1963 season, Musial was the all-time NL hits king with 3,630; that number is currently good for fourth place. Right now, the St. Louis icon ranks ninth in runs scored with 1,949, sixth in RBI’s with 1951, sixth in games played with 3,026 and second behind only Aaron in total bases with 6,134. Musial’s seven batting titles are tied for second with Rogers Hornsby and one less than Honus Wagner. Perhaps the most remarkable stat is that he struck out only 696 times in 12,717 plate appearances. It takes the “greats” of the game today less than seven years to accomplish that, or about 1/3 of the time it took Musial to accumulate the number over a 22-year career.
On top of the jaw-dropping baseball statistics, he was very humble and a great role model according to everything I have read and heard about him. Maybe that’s why the perception of him as a ballplayer suffers a bit. He never called attention to himself and he wasn’t flashy like Mays or had the aura of DiMaggio or the personality of Williams. Yet he was every bit the player those three were. Younger fans need to read up on players like Musial and even Aaron to understand the baseball sun does not rise and set on certain cities. Also, we always hear or say that this guy or that guy is “the man”. Sorry, there was only one Man. Stan the Man Musial. Rest in peace.
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