Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Prince Albert & The Man

The legendary Stan Musial died on Saturday.  Musial was ninety-two years old.  For those among you who do not know who Stan Musial was - for a baseball franchise whose storied history is eclipsed only by that of the New York Yankees - the greatest Cardinal of them all.   The statistics are almost mind-boggling.  His career spanned twenty-two seasons during which he hit 475 home runs and drove in 1,951 runs while compiling a lifetime batting average of .331.  He won the NL batting title seven times.  He won the NL MVP three times.  Not too shabby for a guy whose initial action plan for a trip to the major leagues was principally dependent on his southpaw delivery.  He turned out to be the best left-handed pitcher who never pitched an inning in a Cardinals uniform.  

It has been widely said and written that Musial the player paled in comparison to Musial the man.  Lest you think that this has been nothing other than an after-the-fact whitewash to conceal his warts and deficiencies (people saying nice things about him now that he is dead or some such thing), spend a few minutes reading the piece W.C. Heinz wrote entitled, "Stan Musial's Last Day", which appeared in the October 11, 1963 edition of Life magazine.   You will see rather quickly that what is being said and written about Musial in January 2013 is consistent with what was being said and written about him in October 1963.  A half-century's worth of consistent excellence.  In a world in which those we idolize on athletic fields for their feats of greatness are far too often revealed to have achieved them while walking upon feet of clay, Musial was composed of stronger, hardier stuff.  

Musial was a man who was held in high regard by all who knew him - presumably in large part because of his adherence to the words of Samuel Johnson, "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who does him absolutely no good."   Engraved on this statue that stands outside of the entrance gates of Busch Stadium in St. Louis are the words Ford Frick, who was the Commissioner of Major League Baseball during much of Musial's career, first used to describe him:  Here stands baseball's perfect warrior.  Here stands baseball's perfect knight.     

Perhaps as eloquent a tribute as I have seen paid to Musial anywhere is that paid to him by his great friend Albert Pujols.  Pujols was the superstar who led the Cardinals to two World Series titles before signing a mega-contract with the Angels after the 2011 season.  It is not an exaggeration to say that Musial was Pujols' idol - and not simply for his on-field accomplishments.  The two men - whose age difference was roughly six decades - bonded early on in Pujols' career and theirs was a bond that remained inviolate even after Pujols left Saint Louis for southern California.  

In a piece that appeared on USA Today's web site on Sunday, Pujols talked about his relationship with Musial and the love he had for him.  His one apparent regret?  "I wish my kids had the opportunity to be around him, because that is how I want my kids to live their lives.  I want them to be like Stan Musial.  Not the baseball player.  The person.  That's the respect I have for that man."  

It has been written that a man stands up.  The Man, by all accounts, did.  Every day.  For ninety-two years.  Unquestionably the most impressive of all of his statistics.  


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