Stan Musial is a St. Louis icon and a national treasure, ranking with the Gateway Arch, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and Campbell House Museum. Without flash, Musial carved a career of steadiness, superiority, and significance. From 1941 to 1963, excluding 1945 for military service, Musial garnered:
- 3,630 hits
- 475 home runs
- 725 doubles
- 177 triples
- Nearly 2,000 runs scored
- 20 consecutive appearances in the All-Star Game
- .331 career batting average
It’s a template by which brilliance in the batter’s box may be measured.
Stan Musial died on January 19, 2013 at the age of 92, prompting the requisite obituaries soaked with nostalgia for an era before free agency, television contracts measured by a dollar sign plus nine numbers, and World Series games played only in prime time.
“He was easily the greatest player St. Louis has ever had, and he was properly feted as a living legend in Cardinal country,” wrote Cliff Corcoran in the article “Musial deserves to be remembered as one of baseball’s best” for Sports Illustrated‘s web site on January 20, 2013. “To the rest of the United States however, his modest, jovial nature seemed to undermine his importance. In his later years he was seen as a kindly old man in a red blazer, always quick with a smile and his harmonica, but he never demanded the reverence of surly legends like Williams and DiMaggio, or tragic figures like Mantle and Clemente, or icons of struggle and defiance like Aaron and Mays. It probably didn’t help that the enduring image of Musial from his playing days was not one of power or grace but of his unusual hunchbacked batting stance.”
The kid from Donora, Pennsylvania achieved an honor reserved for a rarefied few. And he did it three times in the same decade. Musial won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1943, 1946, and 1948. His first award crowned a season of leading the major leagues in key categories:
- Hits (220)
- Doubles (48)
- Triples (20)
- Batting average (.357)
Further, he only struck out 18 times in 700 plate appearances.
In 1946, the first year for Major League Baseball after World War II, Musial earned his second dubbing as MVP for the senior circuit after leading the major leagues in three of the same categories:
- Hits (228)
- Triples (20)
- Batting average (.365)
Facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals won in seven games, but they did it without Musial’s formidable bat. “Neither Stan Musial nor Red Schoendiesnt matched his work at the plate during the season, but Harry Walker, a .237 hitter during the year, hit .412 in the Series, and the catching duo of Joe Garagiola and Del Rice combined for a .360 average after batting a joint .250 during the season,” wrote Jerome M. Mileur in his 2014 book The Stars Are Back: The St. Louis Cardinals, the Boston Red Sox, and Player Unrest in 1946.
Musial earned his third MVP distinction with a dominant performance repeating his leadership in all the categories from his 1943 feat:
- Hits (230)
- Doubles (46)
- Triples (18)
- Batting average (.376)
1948 was also a turning point in Musial’s career. In his 2011 book Stan Musial: An American Life, George Vecsey wrote, “He had always been a hitter. In 1948, Musial became a slugger.”
Vecsey added, “Suddenly Stan Musial could hit home runs. He had come up to the majors as an insecure stripling, slapping at the ball to avoid being exposed and shipped back to Donora. Then during the war, to satisfy the admirals and the sailors in Pearl Harbor, he had exaggerated his crouch, stayed in it longer, and swung for the fences. Now, after [Cardinals team physician] Dr. [Robert] Hyland removed his appendix and tonsils in October 1947, Musial began hitting the ball farther, more often.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 8, 2015.
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