We live in era where cheaters, bullies and less-than-admirable characters — Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, etc. — too often dominate the sports headlines. The more outrageous, the better the ratings, the higher the contract. It wasn’t always so.
Baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial was put to rest last weekend, gone at age 92. Though many may have forgotten him, the greatest St. Louis Cardinal ever remains among the first few names in many a statistical category. It wasn’t just the numbers. He was a class act.
Forget for a second the unique, corkscrew batting stance; the seven batting titles; the three Most Valuable Player awards; the five home runs in one day’s double-header; the number of hits ranking him behind only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron; the record 24 All-Star Game appearances. This page chooses to remember the quiet and quite-uncommon-for-the-time leadership and fundamental decency displayed when he was the only white player to approach the black players in an All-Star Game locker room where they were playing cards and say, “Deal me in.” The guy who despite the pressure to do so would not go on strike in protest of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s color barrier. The superstar never too big for his britches to memorize the name of a rookie, just called up. The one-of-a-kind who rarely struck out and was never ejected from a game.
Americans should remember the worker who with professionalism and dignity went about his business day after day, achieving a nearly unrivaled consistency — 1,815 hits at home, 1,815 hits on the road — and excellence. The businessman who had a successful second act — as a restaurateur — when his playing days were over. The down-to-earth fellow who greeted the statues — yes, plural — erected in his honor with almost embarrassed modesty. The family man who never left St. Louis and never sought the attention that ultimately came to him anyway, with decades passing before some of the above anecdotes became public knowledge.
When Musial received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2011, President Obama described him as “an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.” Sadly rare praise, that.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Fair enough. Where have you gone, Stan the Man?
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.