The Magazine

When a Cardinal Ruled the Roost

Stan Musial, 1920-2013.

Feb 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 20 • By GARY SCHMITT
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The nickname “Stan the Man” was bestowed on him by fans in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers still played. As Musial was ringing up hit after hit—in 1948 and 1949, Musial would bat over .500 against the Dodgers—fans at old Ebbets Field were heard first to murmur, then chant, “here comes the man.”

Yet it can be argued that Musial stayed “the Man” not only for his skills at the plate and on the base paths but also for his comportment. He never showboated, was never tossed out of a game, and was famous for treating fans and opposing players with genial grace. No less important was the role he played as the game was being racially integrated with the likes of Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. As elsewhere, St. Louis was a place where race relations were not the best, and the Cardinals had a handful of players from the South who were not at all happy with baseball’s integration. But Musial, the team’s star, made it clear that he was perfectly okay with playing against the Dodger Robinson, and the potential for any real trouble faded away. And when the Cardinals finally integrated, Musial and his wife were key to making sure Bill White and Bob Gibson and the other black players and their families felt like they were part of the Cardinals “team.”

Never one to make speeches, Musial was distinguished by his basic decency. As Vecsey recounts in his biography of Musial, during a taxi ride in New York on the way to the Giants’ Polo Grounds, “One of his teammates noticed a Jewish name on the cabbie’s placard and started speaking in a crude version of a Jewish accent.” Musial told him to knock it off. “When they got to the ballpark, the teammate tried to pay for the ride, as if to make amends, but Musial insisted on paying.” Musial then told his teammate “to never get in a cab with him” again.

Americans like their heroes to be bigger than life but also to have enough flaws to keep them from being too out of the ordinary. Musial’s “problem” is that, while a truly exceptional player, he also led an exceptionally sane and happy life. There was no tragic demise or flaw that brought him low or made for an interesting movie or, for that matter, even a memorable line in a song. Maybe that’s why Stan Musial is arguably the most underrated baseball star of all time.

Gary Schmitt is director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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