Mu­sial gets long over­due recog­ni­tion

The Times-Tribune - - Lifestyles - BY ANN LEVIN

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

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