The Right Opinion

The Man

By Cal Thomas · Jan. 21, 2013

Baseball great Stan Musial died over the weekend. He was 92. He will be missed.

In September 2007, I was invited to make a speech to a civic group in St. Louis. I told the person who invited me I would come on one condition: that I could meet baseball great Stan Musial.

“That's no problem,” he said. “We are members of the same sports club.”

I forget what I said in the speech – and the audience probably has long forgotten, too, – but I will always remember having lunch with Stan Musial.

Stan regaled me with baseball stories.

I asked him how it all began. He said when he was in high school during the Depression a baseball scout came to his hometown of Donora, Pa. The scout told Musial's father he wanted to sign him to a contract.

Musial said his father rejected the offer, telling the scout, “My son is going to college.” Musial's father worked in a steel mill and never got a college education. Like most fathers, he wanted a better life for his son and believed college would be his ticket to success.

The scout left, but returned several weeks later to again ask that Stan be allowed to play professional baseball. He was rejected again. Musial says the scout then appealed to “a higher authority, my mother” and she agreed.

In 1938, Musial was signed as a pitcher to a professional baseball contract. I asked him how much they paid him. As I now recall it was about $2,000 to $3,000. With so many players of lesser skill making millions today, I didn't begrudge him selling his autograph on baseballs and memorabilia.

After injuring his arm as a minor league player, Musial was moved to the outfield and then to first base where he began to hit the ball like few left-handers ever had. He became one of the greatest hitters in Major League Baseball history.

If ever there was a sports role model, Stan was one. A World War II vet and family man, Musial played his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals, a rarity today when players, like interchangeable parts, are traded often or jump to other clubs for more money.

President Obama touched on Musial's character when he presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 2011. The president said then, “Stan remains to this day an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate.”

In our celebrity culture where it doesn't matter why you're famous, only that you are famous, we don't focus enough on true achievement and the untarnished. Musial's contemporaries, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, received more media attention than he did, but Stan never publicly expressed any bitterness. They were in larger media markets, – New York and Boston respectively – which may account for some of it, though it was in New York that Musial acquired his moniker “The Man.” Sporting News reports that, “According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Musial earned 'The Man' nickname 'by (Brooklyn) Dodgers fans for the havoc he wrought at Ebbets Field.'”

Sporting News quoted Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson: “Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game. The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him.”

On that one day in 2007, as I had lunch with my childhood hero, I was a kid again. For me, it was better than any politician I have met or dined with. He signed a baseball for me, for free. It sits encased on a shelf in my office.

In so many ways, on and off the field, Stan Musial was, indeed, “The Man.”

© 2013 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

5 Comments

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

They don't make them like this man anymore. Today's players are narcisistic crybabies compared to Musial and the players of his era.

Monday, January 21, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Chuck in TX said:

Huge loss to St Louis and Baseball, but will remain the ideal every professional athelete should try to emulate both during and after their sports careers.

Monday, January 21, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Cal in SoCal said:

Good view of The Man, Cal. He indeed was a great player and perhaps more importantly, a good man. Role models and/or idols have changed in recent years. Morals and values have changed a lot, too. Bad behavior was once condemned, now it is glorified thanks to politicians and movie idols. It now shows up in the lack of family That is the beginning of the end of great civilizations. Pity

Monday, January 21, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

"OOORAH for baseball hot dogs, and free market Capitalism!"

Monday, January 21, 2013 at 5:30 PM

G Dub45 in Lee's Summit, MO said:

Stan Musial - I grew up in St. Louis idolizing "The Man". I tried hard to hit left-handed. Darn near killed me. I must have seen a hundred games in which he played.
My uncle was a VP at a manufacturing company that held season tickets. He always gave me his on one condition. I had to call him after the game to fill him in on the highlights so that he could tell his Boss as if he himself attended.
Uncle Charlie always asked if Stan hit a homer. Many times he did.
Best thing that ever happened to Musial is when he hurt his pitching arm - Wow, what a field player.
He gave me an autographed picture that contained a note a paragraph long. They don't do that anymore.

Monday, January 21, 2013 at 6:17 PM