Monday, May 31, 2010

Stan "The Man" Musial

"No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today....He plays as hard when his club is away out in front of a game as he does when they're just a run or two behind."
-Ty Cobb writes about Musial in a 1952 Life magazine article

Stan Musial was born Stanisław Franciszek Musiał on November 21, 1920 in Donora, Pennsylvania. He was the fifth of six children born to Lukasz and Mary Musial.

Stan began playing baseball at the age of 15 when he joined the Donora Zincs, semi-professional baseball club which was managed by ex-minor leaguer Joe Barbao, who was a neighbor of the Musial's. Musial began his career as a pitcher and in his first game he tossed six innings, striking out thirteen batters. In 1937 the St. Louis Cardinals, who had been scouting Musial as a pitcher, offered him a professional contract. In 1938 Stan joined the Cardinal's class D team in Williamson, Virginia.

Musial finished the 1938 season with a 6-6 record and a .258 batting average for the Williamson team. Between the 1938 and 1939 seasons Musial returned to Donora and completed his high school education, then joined Williamson in the spring where he went on to post a 9-2 record, 4.30 ERA, and a .352 batting average for the 1939 season.

Musial spent the 1940 season with the Cardinals' Class D team in Daytona Beach, Florida. During this season, Musial began playing the outfield between pitching starts. On May 25, 1940, Musial married fellow Donora resident Lillian "Lil" Labash in Daytona Beach. Stan and Lil would welcome their first child in August 1940. Late in the 1940 season, Musial suffered a shoulder injury while playing in the outfield, that would essentially end his pitching career. In 113 games that season, Musial hit .311, and compiled an 18-5 pitching record, including 176 strikeouts and 145 walks.

Musial was assigned to the Class AA Columbus, Ohio team to begin 1941, but was soon reassigned to Class C Springfield, Missouri as a full time outfielder, when the extent of Musial's shoulder injury from the season prior, revealed he would no longer be an effective pitcher. During 87 games with Springfield, Musial hit a league-leading .379, before being promoted to the International League team in Rochester, New York. Stan continued to hit well, including 11 hits in a three-game stretch. Musial was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals for the last two weeks of the 1941 season.

Musial began 1942 as the starting left fielder, and finished the season with a .315 batting average and 72 RBIs in 140 games, Musial received national publicity in September when St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor J. Roy Stockton named Musial as his choice for Rookie of the Year in a Saturday Evening Post article. The Cardinals went on to play the New York Yankees in the 1942 World Series. And though Musial's numbers weren't impressive, he did have a few key hits that helped the Cardinals win the series four games to one.

Musial was selected to his first All-Star Game in 1943 and finished the regular season leading the National League in hits (220), doubles (48), triples (20), total bases (347), on-base percentage (.425), and slugging percentage (.562). This performance earned him his first National League Most Valuable Player award. The Cardinal's went on to play the Yankees in the World Series, but 1943 would be the Yankees year.

The realities of World War II began to encroach on Musial's baseball career in 1944, he ultimately remained with the Cardinals for the entire season as The Cardinals claimed the National League pennant for the third consecutive season. The Cardinals went on to face the St. Louis Browns in the 1944 World Series, defeating them in six games, with Musial posting a .304 batting average for the Series.

Stan Musial entered the United States Navy on January 23, 1945, and was initially assigned to non-combat duty at the Naval Training Station in Bainbridge, Maryland. On ship repair duty at Pearl Harbor later in the year, Musial was able to play baseball every afternoon in the naval base's eight-team league. After being granted emergency leave to see his ailing father in January 1946, Musial spent a brief time assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard before being honorably discharged from the Navy in March

Musial rejoined the Cardinals for the 1946 season. It was during this season that Musial acquired his nickname of the "The Man." During the June 23 game against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bob Broeg heard Dodger fans chanting whenever Musial came to bat, Broeg asked Cardinals traveling secretary Leo Ward what the Dodger fans had been chanting. Ward said that, "Every time Stan came up they chanted, 'Here comes the man!'" "'That man,' you mean," Broeg said. "No, the man," replied Ward.

1948 was the pinnacle of Stan Musial's career. During the season he collected his 1,000th career hit, and would go on to lead the league in all most every major hitting category. At seasons end, Musial was one home run shy of sharing the league lead. It's also important to point out that Musial had two home runs taken away during the course of the season. One during a rained out game and the second was wrongly ruled a two-base hit by umpire Frank Dascoli.

Stan Musial would spend the rest of his baseball career collecting every award and reaching ever milestone imaginable, including collecting his 3,000th hit on May 13th 1958. Musial finally retired at the end of the 1963 season. He would go on to have his number 6 retired by the Cardinals, a statue erected outside of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and be elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.

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