My number one boyhood hero, Stan Musial, died on January 19, and he has been on my mind ever since. I grew up in St. Louis where baseball is deeply embedded in the fabric of the community. For my generation of St. Louisans, games announced on the radio by legendary sportscasters Harry Caray (in his pre-Cubs days) and Jack Buck provided the soundtrack of our summers. At the center of each of those summers was Stan “the Man” Musial. That simply wonderful nickname was apparently grudgingly but admiringly bestowed on Stan by the notoriously tough Brooklyn fans after witnessing countless Ebbets Field exploits of Musial at the expense of the hometown Dodgers.
Stan Musial’s last season was fifty years ago so I was pleasantly surprised and heartened by the significant attention his death received. This was especially notable since he has long been regarded as perhaps baseball’s most underappreciated superstar. So I find myself speculating about the reasons for this flurry of attention at the time of his death. His career statistics are amazing, but that does not fully explain it. A factor may be that he played 23 major league seasons for one team in one city, and neither he nor the team ever considered that it would be otherwise. Perhaps the attention is related to nostalgia for an era long past. In the Man’s last game of his career, he had two hits against the Cincinnati Reds. Ironically, in the Reds lineup that day was rookie Pete Rose whose amazing performances on the field have been overshadowed by his conduct off the diamond. Was that game the pivot, the moment, when a new era dawned in which we can still enjoy athletes’ talents but dare not count on them (or many other people for that matter) for anything more? I prefer to believe that the outpouring for Stan the Man is rooted not in nostalgia or cynicism but in the decency, excellence, and character he exhibited so unpretentiously, reliably, and remarkably.
Another person who has been on my mind since Stan’s death is my father since he was my companion when I attended Cardinals games so many years ago. My father has been deceased for almost thirty years, but the simple gift of those baseball games with him by my side gave me joy that has lasted my entire life.
No doubt the level of attention to and interest in Stan Musial is generational to a significant extent. But the qualities he embodied and represented are timeless. None of us here at All Saints’ will likely make the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but it is within our reach to model virtues and values to the young people in our lives, virtues and values that Stan Musial exhibited so faithfully. Insofar as we parents and educators are successful in doing so, they and we shall be the better for it.
Until next time…