Stan Musial: Baseball player considered one of the best in history

 

On a late summer's day in San Francisco in 1962, a modest crowd gathered to watch the visiting St Louis Cardinals baseball team do battle with the hometown San Francisco Giants. The Cardinals were not strong that year, while the Giants were challenging for the National League divisional baseball championship. Still, the Cardinals were always interesting to watch because of the presence on the team of their aging superstar, Stan Musial, known down the years to anybody exposed to the sport as "Stan the Man".

Although he was 41 and in his 21st season, long past normal retirement, he did not disappoint, stroking a single base hit to right field his first time at bat, repeating the effort in the third inning, and so on until the end of what amounted to a tutorial. His accomplishment that day was five hits in five times at bat – five-for-five in baseball parlance. Opposing players on the Giants bench applauded respectfully.

This is an unusual accomplishment, especially to one in his forties, but when watching Musial play, even in his later years, nothing was surprising. One felt one was in the presence of quiet perfection, like a brilliant snooker player, or a baseline tennis player hitting the corners of the court. Musial was also the epitome of the American dream, genial, friendly, modest and always ready to sign autographs for his supporters.

His father was born in Poland and his mother in Czechoslovakia in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Like countless immigrants they took their chances in the US, settling in the mining and steelmaking region of Donora, Pennsylvania. In Musial's early days – he first struck bat against ball for the Cardinals in 1941 – much of baseball was populated by the progeny of immigrant stock, notably Italians and Poles. It was not unusual to see a baseball line-up in the mid-century peppered with such names as Kluszewski, Lopata, Jablonski, Yasztrzemski, Narleski and Dropo.

The most durable turned out to be Musial, remembered for his unusual corkscrew stance when standing at bat, his graceful base-running, his ability to stretch a single-base hit into a double and a double into a triple – akin to watching a cricket batsman calmly reaching the boundaries with each swing and occasionally poking one into the seats for good measure. It was said that, with his bat, he was capable of plucking a well-thrown pitch out of a backstop's glove and lashing it to the off-field. He was one of the few batters capable of watching the trajectory of a thrown ball every inch of the way, from pitcher's hand to catcher's glove.

He was not known as a home-run hitter, though in the early 1950s he lashed five balls out of the stadium in one day. In a career which ran from 1941 to 1963 he struck 475 home runs, 177 three-base hits, 725 doubles and a total of 3,630 hits overall. Musial won three divisional most valuable player awards and seven divisional batting titles, the latter based on percentage of hits per time at bat.

In this last category, Musial was formidable, achieving a high career batting average of .331, that is 331 hits per 1,000 at-bats, This far exceeded his two great contemporaries, Joe Dimaggio of the New York Yankees and Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox.

Both men were deemed to be harder hitters but Musial had the reputation for consistency, especially in the late innings. In a sport renowned for its statistics, one numerologist found that Musial batted .336 while playing in St Louis and .326 while playing on enemy turf. He counted 1,815 hits equally at home and on the road. One sportswriter quipped that in his long career Musial had not improved at all – scoring two hits in his first game and two hits in his last one. In 1967 he was lured from retirement to run the Cardinals as general manager. The team recorded 101 victories and went on to win the World Series, at which point Musial resumed the quiet life.

Stanislaw Franciszek Musial, baseball player: born Donora, Pennsylvania 21 November 1920; married 1940 Lilian Labash (died 2012; one son, three daughters); died Ladue, Missouri 19 January 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor