Monday, May 19, 2008

Cardinals pay tribute to Stan the Man

My dad introduced me to the joys of listening to St. Louis Cardinals baseball in 1962 and I am still listening 46 years later. I clearly recall the first game I listened to ended with catcher Gene Oliver winning the game for St. Louis with a home run in the ninth inning. After that, I was hooked.

The first two years I listened were the last two years that the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan "The Man" Musial roamed the outfield for the Cardinals. In his final year, 1963, the Cardinals made a late push for the pennant that fell just short, losing by one game to the Los Angeles Dodgers. I still remember the disappointment I felt even though 45 years have passed.

The present-day Cardinals paid tribute to Stan the Man Sunday:

Often Musial is asked what he would hit if he played in these times. After some consideration Sunday, he said, "I guess I'd hit above my average, which was .331. I'd be making a lot of money."

Musial was assisted out of the cart and to the microphone and back to his seat during the ceremony. But there was one move he made that required no help. Musial offered up one more time one of the most famous swings in history, the one you might have seen and maybe the one your father might have seen. As always, he never lost his balance. Grown men smiled.

These days, Musial said he watched all the Cardinals games, because he likes baseball and, he added, "There's nothing else on TV."

The statue of Musial placed outside the previous Busch Stadium in 1968 — the fans had that replica Sunday — never was particularly a favorite of his.

"I would have had them change the face, the legs were too thick and they didn't have my stance," he said.

But, over the years, he has grown accustomed to it. And four other smaller statues of Musial have been made.

"There's one down in Springfield, Ill., and one in Springfield, Mo., and there's one here in St. Louis," he said.

Then Musial laughed that playful "tee-hee-hee" laugh and said, "I've got more statues than Lincoln."

The day could come, maybe 10 years from now, when Musial might have to share the torch with Albert Pujols, the modern-day equivalent of Musial. Asked if Pujols, an avowed fan of Musial's career, could break his records, Musial said, "He has a chance to. He loves baseball, he's a good first baseman. ... You know the first time I saw Albert Pujols? He gave me a big hug and kissed me on the forehead."

Not many players have a nine-foot statue and a plaza and street named after them. When it was suggested that Musial shouldn't drive too fast now on his own street, Cardinals vice chairman Fred Hanser smiled and said, softly, "Oh, yes, he


Busplunge said...

Stanley F. Musial, swinging Stan the Man, He's the man that thrills the fans, Swinging Stan the Man.

We ate at his restaurant once, Musial and Biggies.

Musial was from an era where ball players were heroes.

woodsba said...

Baseball came to life for me when my uncle took me to the old Sportsman Park for a game against Chicago. Stan hit a stand alone homerun to win the game. Afterward, his kindness to a pesky little girl wanting an autograph made me a fan forever.