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    Mudville: November 29, 2021 11:56 am PDT
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    He’s The Man

    Bud Selig was nervous.

    In 1999, Major League Baseball conducted a poll to name the 25 greatest players of the century.  Commissioner Selig, who approved of the poll, was worried the pollsters wouldn’t select Musial, according to George Vecsey’s book on the St. Louis outfielder. The committee who made the list didn’t select Musial, nor many other great players, so an additional five spots were added. This next one indeed included “Stan the Man.”

    It’s possible, even probable – if a person, group of experts or fans were asked to name the top 10 players of all-time, Musial would be omitted. Yet, how do you ignore seven batting titles, a lifetime batting average of .331 or being the all-time leader in hits for the National League when he retired in 1963? He was the all-time NL leader in 16 different offensive categories.

    This answer to why his reputation isn’t as grand as it should be is this: 475.

    Four hundred and seventy-five is how many home runs Musial hit. He was not part of the 500 Home Run Club, at one time the vanguard to greatness. According to Vecsey’s Stan Musial: An American Life, Musial, in 1945 with the U.S.Navy did routine chores at a naval yard, but also played baseball. Another player told him the brass liked to see four-baggers.

    Born on November 20, 101 years ago, Musial had a very unusual stance — coiled, his body twisted so much he had to look over his right shoulder to see the ball. Thinking of how he could add power to his swing, Musial moved closer to the plate and, according to Vecsey, “exaggerated his crouch, stayed in it longer, and swung for the fences.” He began to hit long home runs in the Navy. From 1941 thru 1947, Musial hit 72 home runs. In 1948, he belted 39 home runs and the following year hit 36 for a total of 75 home runs in those two seasons, three more than he did in his first seven.

    Closeup of St. Louis Cardinals Stan Musial (6) talking to Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully in dugout before game at Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles, CA 8/22/1963 CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

    Four hundred and seventy-five is how many home runs Musial hit. He was not part of the 500 Home Run Club, at one time the vanguard to greatness. According to Vecsey’s Stan Musial: An American Life, Musial, in 1945 with the U.S.Navy did routine chores at a naval yard, but also played baseball. Another player told him the brass liked to see four-baggers.

    Born on November 20, 101 years ago, Musial had a very unusual stance — coiled, his body twisted so much he had to look over his right shoulder to see the ball. Thinking of how he could add power to his swing, Musial moved closer to the plate and, according to Vecsey, “exaggerated his crouch, stayed in it longer, and swung for the fences.” He began to hit long home runs in the Navy. From 1941 thru 1947, Musial hit 72 home runs. In 1948, he belted 39 home runs and the following year hit 36 for a total of 75 home runs in those two seasons, three more than he did in his first seven.

    Besides the change in his stance, Vecsey writes Musial had another incentive for increasing his power numbers: home run hitters were paid more than players who hit singles, doubles (Musial led the league in two-baggers eight times) and triples (Musial led the league in that category five times). Despite his increased power, however, Musial never led the league in home runs.

    If he had changed his approach two years earlier, he might have hit those extra 25 home runs.

    Dr. Harry Edwards, a retired sociology professor at the University of California Berkeley, who pioneered the study of race and sports, agrees Musial falling short of the 500 home run mark has hurt his standing. A native of East St. Louis, Edwards admits to being a big fan of Musial, and ranks him as the second greatest player in Major League history, behind only Willie Mays.

    “As to me ranking Musial second only to Mays, I look at the breadth of skills, the era where he most clearly demonstrated those skills. Like Mays, he made his contributions on one team. Just my opinion,” said Edwards, who frequently watched Cardinals games on local TV.

    Stan Musial at Polo Grounds, 1962.

    “Like most black people from that era, Jackie Robinson was the favorite player, though he was toward the end of his career in the early 1950’s and was not as good a player as either Musial or Mays. Musial was a ‘favorite player’ of mine because he was the greatest player I saw most regularly and consistently,” said Edwards.

    “And he was also a ‘nice guy,’” added Edwards. “He once said that he’d just as soon continue barnstorming in the off-season, playing against Negro League players, rather than returning to the majors even to play in the playoffs because barnstorming was more fun and he made more money! Probably didn’t help cement his name on the list of typical ‘baseball good old boys’ with baseball writers of his day either.”

    Musial had no problem playing with black players when the sport was integrated (he had played basketball with black students in high school). He was never involved in salary disputes with ownership (unlike Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, which in some ways enhanced their reputations). He was also a regular church-goer, a philanthropist and a successful businessman.

    In spring training of 1941, Musial, a sore-armed pitcher after three seasons in the minors, thought his major league career was over before it started.  He threw batting practice to some of the best hitters on the St. Louis Cardinals and was pounded. But coaches in the Cardinals’ system thought he could be a major league hitter. He was sent to a Cardinals minor league team in Springfield, MO to learn to play the outfield.

    After 87 games, he was batting .379, with 26 home runs and 94 RBIs (Springfield had a short right field) and Musial was promoted to Rochester, where he hit .326 in 54 games. Musial led his club to the International League title, but lost the “Little” League World Series to the Newark Bears in six games.  Musial went home to Donora, PA, 28 miles west of Pittsburgh. After taking the night train to save money, he arrived at his parents’ house and took a nap.

    Original Caption) 7/8/1962-New York, NY- Stan (The Man) Musial uncoils from his patented corkscrew stance as he sends the ball into the Polo Grounds' seats for a home run in the first inning of a game with the New York Mets. It turned ot to be the second of four consecutive homers for the St. Louis Cardinal great, tying a major league record. Musial hit a homer in his last at bat in a July 7th game against the Mets followed by three in his first three official times up i the July 8th 15-1 routing of the New Yorkers.

    The Birds were chasing the Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League pennant, and several key players were injured. Management thought it had nothing to lose and called Musial. His wife woke him up with the news he was going to the major leagues. He debuted in the second game of a doubleheader on September 17 against the Boston Braves. In his first at-bat in the first inning, he faced knuckleballer Jim Papin, and Musial popped up. Two innings later, Musial adjusted and slashed a double. He later singled off the knuckler. Braves manager Casey Stengel, in several versions of the same event, predicted Musial would be playing for as many as 20 seasons.

    Even though they won 97 games in 1941, the Cardinals finished 2.5 games behind the Dodgers for the pennant. In his 12 games with the Cards, Musial batted .426.

    Bob Broeg, a St. Louis sportswriter and later a good friend and confidant of Musial’s, lamented that if Rochester’s season had ended earlier, Musial might have been called up sooner and possibly helped the Cardinals win the pennant.

    On May 19, 1962, Musial passed Honus Wagner as the all-time hits leader in the National League when he collected his 3,431st hit – singling off the Dodgers’ Ron Perranoski in the ninth inning of the Cardinals’ 6-1 victory.

    On September 29, 1963, Musial played his last game against the Cincinnati Reds. His second and final hit that day was number 3,630. It was grounded past the Reds’ young second baseman Pete Rose, who inevitably would pass Musial as the all-time hits leader in the National League – and later in baseball history.

    After the game, Musial remarked he had two hits in first first game, and two in his last.

    “No improvement,” he deadpanned.

    He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, and in 2010 President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. No question, he was one of the all-time greats. Noted baseball analyst Bill James ranked him as the 10th best player in major league history. Not bad for a skinny kid from a small town with a sore arm who played far from the media spotlight of New York.

    John Rossi, a retired history professor and baseball scholar who has written four books and taught courses on the sport, said Musial’s 1948 season was among the best ever by a hitter.

    “He led the NL in every offensive stat except homers He hit 39, while Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner hit 40. Musial had one homer wiped out because of a rain out He had 103 extra base hits and struck out 34 times in over 600 times at bat while battling .376, 43 points higher than the number two batter,” said

    Rossi.  “You could make a case that was the greatest offensive performance since the days of Ruth and Hornsby.”

    Jon Caroulis has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years. Many of his articles have been about "unusual" events or players. He is a graduate of Temple University.

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