Musial gets long overdue recognition
In 22 seasons, Stan Musial had a career batting average of .331, hit 475 home runs, compiled 3,630 career hits, was three times the National League’s Most Valuable Player and retired with 17 major league records. Yet his remarkable accomplishments have been overshadowed by those of the other two great hitters of his era, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
George Vecsey, a longtime sportswriter for The New York Times, decided it was time to pay proper tribute to the great St. Louis Cardinal, who captured his heart at the tender age of 7.
Vecsey cites former players and baseball mavens who contend that despite his being underrated or overlooked in recent polls and statistical rankings, Musial was arguably the second-best player of all time, after Babe Ruth. Why, then, did fans voting for the top 25 players of the 20th century in 1999 elevate Mark McGwire and ignore Stan the Man?
Vecsey believes there are several reasons, including Musial’s exemplary, Norman Rockwell sort of life. He had one wife, played for one team, lived about a thousand miles from the media capital of the world and did not behave like a lout on or off the field. His image also may have faded after his 1963 retirement because he came to epitomize the values of Eisenhower-era America.
Now 90 and suffering from Alzheimer’s, Musial was born in Donora, Pa., a steel mill town about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. His Polish father enrolled him in the Falcons athletic club, where he exhibited the natural athleticism that would propel him into Major League Baseball and beyond.
A superstar in his own time, Musial campaigned for John F. Kennedy, befriended the writer James A. Michener, had private audiences with Pope John Paul II and, just this year, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Barack Obama called him “a gentleman you would want your kids to emulate.”
Vecsey’s book, “Stan Musial: An American Life,” winningly captures the essence of this son of the Depression; it is also filled with yearning for an earlier, perhaps better, time in sports: before steroids and showboating athletes, when the boys of summer traveled to games by train and the World Series ended in mid-October.
“Stan Musial: An American Life” Author: George Vecsey Publisher: Ballantine Books/ESPN Books Pages: 416 Price: $26