I wish I could say I watched Stan Musial play. I wish I could say I met The Man. I have done neither. I was four years old in 1963 when Stan played his last professional baseball game. I wouldn’t see my first Cardinals game until two and one half years later, at the age of six. It was 1966, and Bob Gibson was pitching that day. I was with my Dad and my two brothers. There were many more years of such trips, some with my Grandfather, most with my Dad. Remember Straight A baseball tickets? Yep, I got them every year. Neither of my brothers did, I was the sole source of baseball tickets in my family (unless you count the money my Dad spent on two extra tickets, because there were four of us, and Straight A tickets only gave us two.)
Nevertheless, my six year old self knew who Stan Musial was. My father and my grandfather saw him play, and I came from a baseball family. The St. Louis Cardinals were a way of life in the Green household. Stan Musial was the St. Louis Cardinals, in every sense. The Yankees had Babe Ruth, the Red Sox had Ted Williams, and the Cardinals had Stan Musial. Stan never got the national acclaim of Ruth and Williams, playing for a small market team in the Midwest made that impossible. Stan was definitely in that league, his stats prove that. But though I never met Stan, I would bet that the lack of national exposure didn’t bother him much. He just didn’t seem like That Guy.
Much has been said of the type of human being Stan was. The fact that he loved and lived with one woman for 72 years says plenty about that. That he loved his family and his community as well as baseball is also not under question. In an age where money, and lots of it, is worshipped, Stan never made the kind of money playing baseball that players of today make but he was rich just the same. He was rich in love and respect and compassion for others. He gave of himself fully, and the St. Louis community, nay, the baseball community, loved him for it. No ego got in his way, no media coverage gave him a big head, he made himself available, always.
Despite having never met Stan, I do have a story to tell. It’s not my story, but it says more about who Stan was than anything I could tell. I was riding the Metro Link after a Cardinals game and an older gentleman sat down next to me. We began conversing, and he told me how he became a Cardinals fan. He was from New York originally, and was a Yankees fan. He told me he went to a game, and afterwards was in a position to get an autograph from Mickey Mantle, his favorite player. But Mantle had no time for him, wasn’t inclined to give the young man an autograph, so he went home empty handed. Some time later, the young man was in St. Louis visiting family and went to a Cardinals game. Afterwards, his family went to Stan’s restaurant. Stan himself came over to their table and inquired about where they were from. He sat down with that family, and spent time talking to them, telling them stories. The young man was enthralled, and from that day on, the older man told me, he was a Cardinals fan for life.
There are probably many others with similar stories; encounters with a man who was warm, generous, and engaging. I have few regrets about my life, but one that I do have, most profoundly, is a regret that I never met Stan. That I don’t have my own story to tell. I bet it would have been a good one.
Stan has left us now, gone to be with his wife Lil, and delight the heavenly hordes of baseball fans. It would be unusual to say I miss a man I never met, but my baseball soul is still bereft. No more opening days with Stan’s smiling face riding in that red cart. St. Louis will never forget him, and the nation is poorer because of his leaving it. We can keep his memory in our hearts, and pay tribute to his legacy by striving to be what he was. Always available, always ready to do what needed to be done, always loving his fellow man. It’s really not that hard. Give it a try.