Saturday, January 19, 2013

Stan the Man

Once upon a time I was a diehard fan of major league baseball.  But then the strike of 1994 ruined one of the best seasons ever (even with the steroids) and then the game got completely twisted by the freakish stats that followed thanks to PED's and my interest wained.  I longed for a time when players stayed with a team their whole career.  I longed for a time when a player's name was associated with a city, like George Brett with Kansas City and Cal Ripken, Jr. with Baltimore.

If you say St. Louis, only one name comes to mind.  Stan Musial was baseball in St. Louis.  That's saying a lot for a city with an incredible baseball history, second only to that of New York.  Musial retired just as I was becoming aware of the great game of baseball.  He exemplifies the golden age of major league baseball.

Musial played in a period that started with Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams and ended with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.  His presence in the Cardinals' lineup always made St. Louis a contender.  He hit for power, for average and could run really well in his younger years.  Most importantly you never heard any criticism of him in the press, not then, not now.

DiMaggio had his foibles, he was a loner, he carried an air of arrogance, he never really fit in with this teammates.  Williams was a man at war with the press and with his fans.  Other players of that generation, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campenella, Mickey Mantle, Mays and Aaron, certainly generated more headlines.  Of course five of those players played a large part of their careers in the Big Apple.  Aaron is the exception and he never really got much ink until people woke up in the early 70's and realized he could catch Babe Ruth as baseball's greatest homerun hitter.

As much as I loved the Dodgers in my younger years, largely because of Sandy Koufax, I loved the Cardinals almost as much.  Musial was part of a tremendous baseball heritage that soared behind such players as Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, and Rodgers Hornsby.  As great as all of those players were and they were incredible, Musial stood above them all.  Albert Pujols could have surpassed Musial as the personification of baseball in that city but he chose to pursue the money.  Musial was class personified.  He was approachable to everyone.

His passing leaves an aching in my passion for baseball.  From that great generation that kick started baseball after World War II, only a few Hall of Famers remain.  Ironically, two of the oldest both have ties to St. Louis.  The great Red Schoendienst who managed my beloved 1967 El Birdos to the World Championship and played 2nd base for the Red Birds back in the 40's is still around as is Yogi Berra.  Ironically, Berra, though a Yankee for life, was born in and grew up in St. Louis.

Cardinal Nation is a sad place indeed tonight.

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