ST. LOUIS – No last name necessary.
A slew of batting titles. Corkscrew stance. Humble. A gentleman. All-around good guy.
Stan the Man.
Stanley Frank Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals star who was one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, died Saturday. He was 92.
“I never heard anybody say a bad word about him – ever,” Willie Mays said in a statement released by the Hall of Fame.
The Cardinals announced Musial’s death in a news release and said he died at his home in Ladue, a St. Louis suburb, surrounded by family. The team said Musial’s son-in-law, Dave Edmonds, informed the club of the slugger’s death.
Musial, the Midwest icon with too many batting records to fit on his Hall of Fame plaque, was so revered in St. Louis that two statues in his honor stand outside Busch Stadium – one just wouldn’t do him justice. He was one of baseball’s greatest hitters, every bit the equal of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio even without the bright lights of the big city.
Musial won seven National League batting crowns, was a three-time MVP and helped the Cardinals capture three World Series championships in the 1940s.
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. He had been the longest-tenured living Hall of Famer.
“Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game,” Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. “The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him.”
A pitcher in the low minors until he injured his arm, Musial turned to playing the outfield and first base. It was a stroke of luck for him, as he went on to hit .331 with 475 homers before retiring in 1963.
He was the first player in Cardinals history to have his number retired. Ol’ 6 probably was the most popular, too, especially after Albert Pujols skipped town.
“I will cherish my friendship with Stan for as long as I live,” Pujols wrote on Twitter. “Rest in Peace.”
At the suggestion of a pal, actor John Wayne, Musial carried around autographed cards of himself 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.”
Scandal-free and eager to play every day, Musial struck a chord with fans throughout America’s heartland 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 in all directions.
Musial’s public appearances dwindled in recent years, though he took part in the pregame festivities at Busch Stadium during the 2011 postseason as the Cardinals won the World Series. And he was at the White House in February 2011 when President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor for contributions to society.
At the ceremony, President Obama said: “Stan remains to this day an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.”
He certainly delivered at the plate.
Musial never struck out 50 times in a season. He led the N.L. in most every hitting category for at least one year, except homers. He hit a career-high 39 home runs in 1948, falling 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 1,815 on the road. He also finished with 1,951 RBIs and scored 1,949 runs.
All that balance despite a most 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.
Unusual, that aspect of Musial.
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.”
As for how he did that, Musial offered a secret.
“I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider,” he said. “Then, I’d pick up the speed of the ball in the first 30 feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it has crossed the plate.”
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, his first year of eligibility.
“It was, you know, a dream come true,” Musial once said. “I always wanted to be a ballplayer.”
After retiring as a player, Musial served for years in the Cardinals’ front office, including as general manager in 1967, when the Cardinals won the World Series.
Musial’s wife died in May 2012.