OUT OF LEFT FIELD
STAN THE MAN
STAN MUSIAL DOING WHAT HE DID BEST
As Musial nears age 90,
it's time to give him credit
By STAN ISAACS
This started with an idle conversation about great baseball players. I was taken aback somewhat when my friend, Pete, said, Yes, Stan Musial was one of the great ones, but not up there with titans like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Now, my friend Pete is in his 95th year and his opinion commands respect. But it hit a chord when he said that Musial was not on a par with Williams. As he said this, I had visions of the days when Musial would come into Ebbets Field with the St. Louis Cardinals and tattoo the right field fence or send balls over the screen into Bedford Avenue. A few days later he would be over at the Polo Grounds ripping pitches into the upper stands in right field or smoting balls out into the right-center field bullpen for a triple.
Ah, Stan Musial. Brooklyn Dodger fans said, Theres that man again--and that inspired the nickname, Stan the Man. I daresay many a guy named Stan has not objected when called the same, Stan the Man.
Sports Illustrated did an article in August on Musial as an almost forgotten man. Evidence of that was the fan vote conducted by major league baseball to name its All Century team. The fans, so attuned to the present heroes, did not list Musial as one of the 10 best outfielders ever. This inspired a special committee to add Musial to correct the injustice. None other than baseball commissioner Bud Selig became apoplectic at the omission of Stan the Man.
Musial will be 90, November 21. He is regarded as one of the all time nice guys of sports, invariably cheerful and smiling. Why are you always smiling? somebody once asked Musial. Youd be smiling too he said, if you were hitting .331."
Bob Gibson, something of a grouch, echoed many when he said, Stan Musial is the nicest man I ever met in baseball. In the more than 40 years I have been around baseball with New York teams, my favorite out-of-town players were Richie Ashburn, who played his final season with the New York Mets, and Musial.
The image of Musial is of him with that peekaboo stance at the plate--the one that Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons said, looked like a small boy looking around the corner to see if the cops are coming--and then swinging and ripping a line drive. I recall him telling me he could read the stitches on a baseball coming toward him at the plate.
He has big numbers in almost every offensive aspect of the game. I regard him as the personification of the line drive doubles hitter-and I have always liked doubles hitters.
Yet Williams tops him in most hitting departments--doubles, particularly home runs. Ted has a home run percentage of one every 18.6 times at bat to Stans one homer every 25.2 times at bat. It symbolizes something or other that Williams hit a much publicized homer (essay by John Updike) in his last time at bat; Musial went out with a single.
Musial was a better base runner and more dedicated and better fielder--and more of a team guy, less enthralled with his reputation as a hitter than Williams was. Musial never matched Williams, either, in feuding with reporters, or spitting at fans.
I always thought Musial was a good clutch hitter, that Williams was not, but there are no statistics to justify that feeling. On the other hand whereas Williams, the man with the great eye, often seemed satisfied to take a base on balls when there was a runner in scoring position, Musial, like Joe DiMaggio would swing at a less-than-perfect strike to knock a run in.
I have to be fair. My recollection that Williams didnt hit well against the Yankees was erroneous. His lifetime batting average against the Red Sox biggest rival was .345. That compares well to Musials .359 against the Dodgers and .343 against the Giants.
For many years I have conducted a campaign to hang names on the colorful redbirds on the front of the St. Louis Cardinal uniforms. Stan was always one obvious choice. When Albert Pujols emerged as an outstanding hitter-- he was called El Hombre, Spanish for The Man--Pujols rejected that, saying, Theres only one Man. Maybe so, but I submit that he has earned a place next to Musial and the birds should be known now as Stan and Albert.
Musial was the head of the Presidents fitness program at one point. The Polish guy who escaped from the chemically polluted town of Donora, Pa., once accompanied the writer, James Michener, on a tour of Europe that included meeting Lech Walesa in Poland. They visited Rome, too.
This tickles me: George Vecsey, who is writing a biography of Musial, said American cardinals at the Vatican went crazy when meeting the greatest Cardinal of them all.
* * *
In last weeks column I mentioned the ballroom at the Downtown Athletic Club where I spotted the space from which the painting of Heisman winner O.J. Simpson had been removed. Leonard Elman informs that the Downtown Athletic Club no longer occupies that site. The award ceremonies now are held at a Times Square movie theater. I am not aware there is a room full of Heisman award paintings anywhere now.
©2010 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted Sept. 27, 2010.
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