(photo courtesy of Andrew Sander)
What was supposed to be a great night for St. Louis sports fans, including myself, became a whirlwind of emotions. Saturday, January 19th, 2013 marked the long-awaited (by those who still cared, anyway) return of NHL hockey, and thus the return of our boys in Blue back onto the ice for a 7pm game against division rival Detroit. Less than a half an hour before the game was set to start, word began to leak – I first saw the notification from the KMOXSports twitter account at 6:44pm – that baseball Hall of Fame member and St. Louis icon Stan “The Man” Musial had passed away at the age of 92.
I was at a loss for words. It took a bit for me to get myself together after reading the news, and my voice broke when passing along the news to my fiancee, who is also a Cards fan. Why was I so emotional over the loss of a guy who I never met? Whose hand I never shook? It speaks volumes for what Musial meant for me, and for us.
His statistics speak for themselves. 24-time All-Star. 3 World Series championships. 3 World Series MVP awards. 7 National League batting championships. 475 home runs. 1,951 RBIs. Perhaps the most intriguing statistic of them all is his career 3,630 hits – perfectly split down the middle with 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road. The truest definition of consistency.
A staple of St. Louis Cardinals baseball, dating back to its dedication in 1968, is his statue. For decades, the statue has served as a landmark for Cards fans (“Meet me at [his] statue”). What boggles my mind is associating his statue as a landmark outside of Busch Memorial Stadium (aka “Busch II”), a stadium that Stan himself never played a game in, since the stadium’s 1966 opening followed his retirement after the 1963 season. The statue now stands outside the 3rd base entrance to Busch III along 8th Street, and quickly became a makeshift memorial spot after news of his passing Saturday evening.
For as great as The Man was on the field, he may have been even better off of it. He remained involved with the Cardinal organization in various capacities throughout his retirement, and was almost always seen taking part in Opening Day festivities. The “Stand For Stan” campaign culminated in his receiving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, citing him as “an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.”. Indeed, Musial made his rounds thousands of times over the years, being an integral part of the community. For as many hands as he shook and as many pictures as he took, he entertained just as many people with his harmonica.
In perhaps the best numerical statistic of them all, Stan was married to his high school sweetheart Lillian Susan Labash for nearly 72 years, Both of them were familiar faces around Cardinal Nation even well after his retirement, all the way up to Lillian’s passing back in May of 2012. Speaking with my parents yesterday, my mother brought up a very interesting detail. Stan had a saying: “If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late”. It was pointed out amongst St. Louis media that his time of death preceded that of his lifelong partner by approximately 15 minutes. Coincidence?
In a scenario that seems entirely too fitting, just minutes after the announcement of his death, the Blues would play to a standing-room-only crowd and win their season opener by a shutout score of 6-0. No number could be more appropriate when discussing Stan Musial. In fitting with the Cardinals marketing motto over recent years, “Six is a serious number”.
Although I never met “The Man”, I respect and appreciate everything that he has ever been to a baseball team that I’m a loyal supporter of, and the city that I will always call home. Personal memories: Two of the best sports moments I’ve had are attending both the final regular season ballgame ever played at Busch Stadium II, and the inaugural game at Busch Stadium III. For both of those games, I stood alongside two of my best friends, and more importantly, my father. Musial was there for festivities on both of those dates. He’s forever a part of those memories for me, among many more.
To reference Ford Frick’s quote, Stan indeed was baseball’s perfect warrior and perfect night. While he may no longer be with us in body, his legacy will forever be a massive part of Cardinal Nation. He will forever be The Man.