- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

ST. LOUIS. — He was supposed to throw out the first pitch for Tuesday night’s World Series game at Busch Stadium, but, at the age of 85 and growing frailer each day, they didn’t subject Stan Musial to the cold conditions that night in St. Louis.

It’s a shame, because every time Stan Musial can be remembered and honored, not even Mother Nature should stand in the way. Every time a young baseball fan watching the game turns to his father and asks, “Dad, Who’s Stan Musial,” he should get the following answer:

“Son, you know when I’ve told you about such great baseball players as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron and Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio? I should have told you about Stan Musial as well, because he is one of them.”

Hank Aaron himself will tell you that. He didn’t want to talk about Barry Bonds after the presentation of the Hank Aaron Award on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, but his face lit up when he was asked about Musial.

“He was one of the greatest players I ever played against,” Aaron said. “And he is an even better person.”

Musial always has been a favorite of his peers, and they loved when he would break out his harmonica to play at the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown.

Yet when it does come time to talk about the greatest players ever to grace a ballpark, Musial is often inexplicably left out of the mix — except, of course, in St. Louis and parts of the Midwest that grew up Cardinal families. The stories of “Stan the Man” have been passed on, and, of course, there is the statue of Musial that first stood in front of the old Busch Stadium for 38 years and now is outside the new ballpark that opened this year.

Stan Musial is still a midwestern icon, having played his entire career with the Cardinals, from 1941 to 1963. But his legacy has not aged well in other places. When Sports Illustrated selected an all-star team from the 20th century, Musial ranked 11th among outfielders. And when baseball and MasterCard did their All-Century team in 1999, Musial was added only after the decision was made by a special “oversight committee.”

That’s a good way to describe the career of Musial in today’s baseball debates — an oversight.

What else could you call it when a player with Musial’s credentials — a career .331 batting average, 475 home runs, 3,630 hits, 1,951 RBI and 1,949 runs often gets left out of those debates over the greatest players in the history of the game. He has not played for 43 years, yet he is still ranked fourth among most hits, fifth in RBI, third in doubles (725) and ninth in runs scored.

Oh, and one more thing — Ted Williams, considered to be the standard for hitting and plate discipline of the 20th century, struck out 709 times over 19 seasons. Musial struck out just 696 times over 22 seasons.

He won three National League MVP awards, seven batting titles and batted over .300 17 times.

Musial wasn’t always an oversight. While he was playing, he was considered to be among the premier players in the game, and had appeared to work his way into the American fabric beyond the playing field. There were often references made to Musial in political, literary and other circles as well, such as the young island boy in the John Wayne film, “Donovan’s Reef,” who wore a Cardinals hat because Musial was his favorite player. The whole “Stan the Man” nickname started in New York, where fans tagged him with it because he would beat up so bad on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

But his legacy has not aged well, not like Aaron, Mays, Mantle and the others who are in that class of elite players. There are many players in the Hall of Fame, but if you had a separate wing for the best of the best, Musial would be in there.

Here are some of the amazing things you might find in that wing, some of the things that made Musial so special.

He had the same amount of hits on the road — 1,815 — as he had at home.

In 1954, Musial hit five home runs in a doubleheader against the New York Giants in St. Louis. The only other player to ever do that in the history of baseball was there. Nate Colbert, growing up in St. Louis, was 8 years old at the time, and 18 years later, he would hit five home runs in a doubleheader against Atlanta.

In 1958, Musial became the first $100,000 player in the National League. Remarkably, two years later, he reportedly asked the Cardinals to cut his salary to $80,000 because he felt he had been overpaid in 1959.

In 1972, he was the first foreigner to receive the Polish government’s Merited Champions Medal, the highest sports honor in the country.

There have been many great players in this historic Cardinal organization — Rogers Hornsby, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith and currently Albert Pujols among them — but the face of this franchise has been, and still is, Stan the Man. If this series does anything, hopefully it can remind a few people of that without appointing an oversight committee.

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