Remembering Stan the Man
By KATE UPTERGROVE with WARREN MAYES
To everything there is a season. Baseball fans know this better than anyone else.
Spring training, regular season, post-season and the long winter months between seasons – but a season without Stan Musial? That’s hard to imagine.
“For me, one of the best parts of any baseball season was Opening Day when you got to shake his hand, and knowing you were going to be a part of an organization and a team that was his organization,” said pitcher Mitchell Boggs. “He set an example for not only baseball players, but anybody, to live by.
“And not because he was a good baseball player. He was so much more than that. … He didn’t mind shaking your hand. He didn’t mind signing your baseball. That goes a long way with people.”
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said Stan “epitomized everything that’s great about Cardinals baseball.”
“His performance on the field, his incredible integrity, his citizenship, what he’s meant to the community, his commitment to St. Louis and the area, an engaging personality, accessible,” DeWitt said. “You could go on and on and talk about the adjectives, and they’re all true.”
“Most of it was just personal,” explained former manager Tony La Russa, “just the way he treated you when he was around you. You could see the respect, the courtesy, the caring, the sense of humor. That’s the way he was with everybody.”
Of course the players knew him like family.
“We are his team,” Boggs said.
But what about people outside the team?
“He never knew a stranger,” explained Bob Gray, of Chesterfield’s Music Central, who for more than a decade played piano in the Stadium Club and who was asked to play at the gathering following Musial’s funeral.
“When we were at the Stadium Club in the old Busch Stadium, Stan would come and sit on the piano bench with me and play the harmonica. He was very good,” Gray reminisced. “Sometimes Red (Schoendienst) would sing with us. He has a beautiful tenor voice.”
Three guys around a piano – if they were anywhere other than the Stadium Club it might be possible not to recognize two of them as baseball legends. Well, maybe …
Lafayette grad and third baseman David Freese said, “Whether you grow up in St. Louis or not, if you’re a fan of baseball, you’re going to hear Stan Musial’s name repeatedly as you grow up. What a life he lived!”
“Words can’t express what Stan meant to the city of St. Louis and the franchise of the St. Louis Cardinals,” noted hitting coach John Mabry. “If you would tell a young kid to look at someone and say, ‘That’s the way you’re supposed to be on and off the baseball field,’ Stan Musial was it. They still have a few more that are, like Red and Gibby and Lou, very good ambassadors to the game.”
“When we talk about the Cardinal way, what we look for in terms of character, he embodied everything when we’re looking to build a team,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “When we define a player, we think of performance, we think of consistency, we think of character. When we think about Stan specifically, offensively, he’s an anomaly. Very few players accomplished what he did. You think about how long he did it – 22 years to perform at that level is unfathomable. ”
Manager Mike Matheny recalled seeing Musial for the first time as something other than a baseball legend.
“Twenty years ago was probably the first time I got to see him be himself and get on the harmonica and steal the stage. Then just watching him work a room and watching how he treated people. He and Jack Buck, I was mesmerized with how they engaged people, not just in passing conversations, but they made friends constantly. I think it was a great example that our guys need to try and follow up. I think that’s the standard that’s been set.”
“We have to remember the legacy that he left behind in this game,” explained outfielder Carlos Beltran.
In the end, Mozeliak said he knows this about the ballplayer Cardinal Nation knew as Stan the Man, “He loved his family. He loved his church. He loved the game of baseball. He loved the St. Louis Cardinals. And he will be missed.”