Saturday, January 19, 2013

Quote of the Day (Joe Garagiola, on Stan Musial)

“He could have hit .300 with a fountain pen.”—Sportscaster Joe Garagiola, on St. Louis Cardinals teammate Stan Musial, quoted in The Gigantic Book of Baseball Quotations, edited by Wayne Stewart (2007)

The passage of decades, the city of his greatest achievement, the rise of steroid-enhanced sluggers and his own self-effacing personality combined to dim the position of Stan Musial in the record books and in the minds of baseball fans.  Maybe now, his death at age 92 will bring about a long-overdue reconsideration of a player almost as admired by opponents as by his own teammates.

He never had the disdainful majesty of a Williams, the movie-star sense of distance of a DiMaggio, the flair of a Mays, the drama of a Mantle, or the booming bat of an Aaron. He was, simply, a rock of stability and a tower of decency--so much so that teammate Julian Javier named his friend to be the godfather of the son he named after him.

Baseball stat maven Bill James, back in 1985, placed “Stan the Man” as the 10th-greatest player of all time. When he retired after the 1963 season, after two decades in professional baseball, the star of the St. Louis Cardinals had the second-highest number of hits all time.  He had won three Most Valuable Player Awards and had led the Cards to three World Series championships in his time with the team.

He achieved this as a model of consistency, self-discipline and determination. A sore-armed pitcher in 1941 about to lose his chance at the big leagues, he made the most of Branch Rickey’s willingness to see how he looked in the outfield. More of a contact hitter when he first started, he became a formidable power hitter, finishing with 475 home runs. His lifetime batting average of .331 seems all the more extraordinary when one considers that, though exceeding Ted Williams in plate appearances by 3,000, he actually struck out less.

Musial had the misfortune to play in Middle America, away from the media and entertainment capitals of New York and Los Angeles. Nor was he a prima donna. At age 41, after his batting average had risen for the first time in three years, to .288, he not only accepted a pay cut of $5,000 but said he’d been “treated royally” by Cardinals management. He responded not by sulking, but by hitting .330 for 1962, only a point off his career average.

Remarkably, the outfielder-first baseman had the same number of hits at home and away. Perhaps even more remarkably, in a game where road travel and fame has presented all kinds of temptations to players over the years, he stayed married to the woman he married on his 19th birthday for seven decades.

(Photo shows Stan Musial as he was depicted on his 1953 Bowman baseball trading card.)

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