Musial, Stanley Frank ("Stan the Man")

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MUSIAL, Stanley Frank ("Stan the Man")

(b. 21 November 1920 in Donora, Pennsylvania), one of baseball's all-time greats who played for the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Musial was the fifth of six children of Lukasz Musial, a Polish immigrant, and Mary Lancos, a homemaker and second-generation Slovak. Musial's father worked on the loading dock of the American Steel and Wire Company some twenty-nine miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Life was bleak by the time Musial reached adolescence. In early 1932 the Great Depression closed the mill, and most of the residents of Donora lost their regular jobs. The Musial family was particularly hard hit because of Lukasz Musial's unsteady employment. This forced Musial's mother and sisters into domestic labor. Musial overcame adversity in part because of his resourceful mother and local educators and businesspeople, especially Michael "Ki" Duda, his high school coach, and Frank Pizzica, an auto dealer who provided financial assistance and advice.

Despite his father's opposition, Musial signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on 29 September 1937, nearly two years before he graduated from Donora High School. He began his professional baseball career in 1938 as a left-handed pitcher at Class D Williamson, West Virginia, where his wildness reduced him to mediocrity. In 1940 he improved under the tutelage of manager Richard Kerr at Class D Daytona Beach, Florida, where he finished with an 18–5 record.

Two events significantly affected Musial's life during that 1940 season. First, near the close of that campaign, playing center field, Musial snagged his cleats on the turf while attempting to make a shoestring catch. He tumbled onto his left shoulder and permanently damaged his ability to throw hard. Second, he married Lillian Labash, his high school sweetheart, on 25 May. That year Lil gave birth to Richard Stanley Musial (named after Kerr); they later had three daughters.

Unaware of the seriousness of his injury, the Cardinals elevated Musial to Class C ball in 1941 only to determine that he was "damaged goods." The manager Ollie Vanek of the Springfield, Missouri, Cardinals, however, gave him a chance as an outfielder. Musial developed into the league's top hitter, batting .379 with 26 homers by mid-July. The Cardinals promoted him to Rochester, New York, one of their top farm teams, where he hit .326. Consequently, he came up for the Cardinals' final twelve games amid a heated pennant race with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Musial nearly carried the ball club to a pennant by hitting an astounding .426, ending an extraordinary season that began on the brink of extinction.

In 1942, his rookie season, Musial reached six feet in height, and weighed 175 pounds. Called the "Donora Greyhound" by the press, he was quick afoot, particularly on the base paths, and he hit from a deep crouch, moving the bat and his hips in a hula-like wiggle with his body twisted away from the plate in a cobra-like fashion. A Brooklyn Dodgers coach commented that Musial "looks like a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops are coming." Musial played left field on a young team dominated by outstanding pitching, team speed, and fielding. The Cardinals won the National League pennant and unexpectedly defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series. Musial played an integral part in the team's success by hitting .315.

Musial contributed mightily to the Cardinals in the following two seasons. In the midst of World War II, which drew top major league players into military service, the Cardinals' depth prevailed as the result of an outstanding farm system. St. Louis won the pennant in 1943 only to lose to the Yankees in the World Series. Musial won his first batting title in 1943 by hitting .357. He was named the National League Most Valuable Player, the first of three such awards. In 1944 the Cardinals became the world champions, and Musial batted a second-best .347. He spent 1945 in the U.S. Navy, where he played service ball, mostly at Pearl Harbor.

The 1946 campaign represented the last of the Cardinal teams of the Musial era to win the National League pennant. They went on to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. That season also clearly established Musial as one of the premier hitters of his time as he snared the league batting title with a .365 average, his second-best season ever. To address a team deficiency, he played first base for the first time. Because of his extraordinary hitting at Ebbets Field, Dodgers fans nicknamed him "Stan the Man," his most defining signature. Grossly underpaid by the skinflint owner Sam Breadon, Musial that June nearly bolted to the Mexican League, who promised him a big signing bonus and a guaranteed five-year contract of $25,000 annually at a time when Musial earned $13,500. He held out for a higher salary from the Cardinals the following spring, his last major salary dispute. By the 1950s he was the first National League player to earn $100,000 annually.

The 1947 season witnessed the integration of Major League Baseball, beginning with Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers. That event divided ball clubs, especially the Cardinals, with talk of a player strike being reported. Musial, who had played with blacks in Donora, quietly defended Robinson's right to play in the major leagues, earning the appreciation of Robinson and other black players who soon followed. Musial's unexpected health problems further made 1947 a troubling season. Acute appendicitis drained him before he rebounded to finish the year batting at .312, his lowest average until 1956. Following off-season surgery, Musial had a career year in 1948, leading the National League in virtually every hitting category, including batting average (.376), hits (230), doubles (46), triples (16), and slugging percentage (.702). His 39 home runs were his most ever and one shy of winning the triple crown, that is, finishing at the top of the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in.

Musial won four more batting titles and contended virtually every other year in the 1950s. In the process he surpassed 3,000 career hits in 1958 and set a National League mark for playing in 895 consecutive games. The latter took its toll as the aging Musial slipped to a .255 average in 1959. His comeback reached extraordinary heights in 1962, when he hit .330 at the age of 41 in his next to last season. He retired with a career batting average of .331 and several major league records, including total bases (6,124) and extra base hits (1,337). Among his many National League records were hits (3,630), runs scored (1,949), and runs batted in (1,951).

Following his baseball career Musial expanded his business activities beyond a popular steakhouse and a bowling alley in St. Louis to hotels in Florida and St. Louis. He became an inspiration to other players, who began to give more thought to their futures after sports. He also served as President Lyndon Johnson's physical fitness adviser from 1964 to 1967. Musial was the Cardinals' general manager for the 1967 season and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. Beginning in the 1980s his many public service activities included the introduction of baseball into Poland.

Of all the superstars of his era, none was more accommodating with the press and fans than Musial. Unlike Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, he rarely refused interviews, and he often went to great lengths to sign autographs. He was especially popular with opposing players because he was complimentary and learned the names of even the most marginal players. Never did he provoke an umpire enough to eject him from a game. Overall Musial elevated the standards of many performers who modeled themselves after him. His sunny disposition hid an intense competitive spirit, leading one observer to write, "[Ty] Cobb wore his fire on his sleeve and it was written all over his face; Musial concealed it in a facade of geniality and placidness, but it burned as deeply inside of him as it did in Cobb." Musial's fun-loving spirit and his competitive fire came together most clearly in his duels with Hall of Famer Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves. Musial usually raised three fingers at Spahn as he entered his stance, meaning he intended to get three hits that day. Spahn usually laughed and said, "Yeah?" He then sent Musial on his back with a high tight pitch. In one matchup, after Spahn threw at him Musial said something and laughed. He then lined the next pitch into Spahn's stomach. As he ran to first base Musial made some comment and laughed again. Spahn then removed his hat and bowed.

Correspondence related to Musial is in the Lyndon Johnson Papers at the Lyndon Johnson Library and in the Branch Rickey Papers at the Library of Congress. Extensive clippings files on Musial are at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York, and the Sporting News archives in St. Louis, Missouri. See also Musial's autobiography, Stan Musial: "The Man's" Own Story, as Told to Bob Broeg (1964). It was republished in 1977 to include information of Musial's activities following his baseball retirement. The only full-scale biography is James N. Giglio, Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man (2001).

James N. Giglio