Saying goodbye to ‘Stan the Man’Jan. 19, 2013 will be a day that Cardinal fans around the world will not forget. Baseball fans were treated to a career unparalleled in so many ways from 1941 to Sept. 29, 1963, when he retired from the game of baseball.
The following is another “Have Fun or Get Out of the Way” column by award-winning Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola, which runs occasionally in The Superior Telegram.
Our world has been lessened by the passing and final at bat of St. Louis Cardinals legend, Stan “The Man” Musial.
Jan. 19, 2013 will be a day that Cardinal fans around the world will not forget. Baseball fans were treated to a career unparalleled in so many ways from 1941 to Sept. 29, 1963, when he retired from the game of baseball. As a 12-year-old living in my beloved “Shangri La” of Lake Nebagamon, I will never forget that day. Musial had committed the “cardinal” sin and announced that after a 22-year career with St. Louis, he was retiring from the game of baseball, on my birthday. Even though I was 12, I cried like a baby.
I had a special connection to Musial. His middle name was Frank; my dad’s first name was Frank. He was a member of the Cardinals, my favorite team and my dad’s favorite team. My dad and I would listen to Cardinal games on the radio.
I idolized my dad and Stan Musial; neither could do any wrong. Spending the first 10 years of my life in Carlinville, Ill., approximately 60 miles from St. Louis, KMOX 1120 AM brought Musial into my life and lives of countless millions of baseball fans through the broadcasts delivered by announcers Harry Caray and Jack Buck. After the move north, I listened to that 50,000 watt station every night the Cardinals played.
Before the westward expansion of baseball in 1958, moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and the Giants from New York to San Francisco, the Cardinals were geographically the western and southern most team in major league baseball. Their fan base encompassed the western half of the United States, much of the Midwest and the South. I consider myself as being extremely lucky to have grown up able to listen to the exploits of Stan the Man on the radio. I know the younger generation will think I am nuts, but baseball is best “seen” on the radio, not television.
I was also lucky enough to see Musial in person at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. I love to tell the story about how I met Musial. Each year, I was able to attend a game and sit in the leftfield bleachers, the field where “The Man” played. Each time I was in attendance, he would turn around and wave to me as I hollered his name. What a thrill it was to be there with 4,000 other Cub Scouts screaming his name and to be recognized. I know that his smile and wave was for everyone, not just me, but I chose at the early age of 7 to believe his attention was mine. How special he made me feel.
I could list his records, many of which still stand today 49 years after his retirement. Suffice it to say that he was the greatest left-handed hitter the National League ever produced. Had he played in New York, Musial would have been granted sainthood by all of baseball and recognized as one of the top players in the history of the game. Because of his character, values, dedication, playing skills and exemplary lifestyle, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1969 with 93 percent of the vote (the other 7 percent must not have submitted their votes).
I’m proud to say he was ours, one of us, and the Man who singled me out at the few games I was privileged enough to attend.
When my friend Dave Johnson sent me a text informing me of Musial’s death, I was at Grizzly’s treating myself to a rotisserie chicken salad with family and friends. My wife, Gloria, my daughter, Alexa, and her boyfriend, Ben Johnson, were at the table along with Pat and Lori Flynn. Pat and I had just finished webcasting two UWS basketball games and were getting ready to go to Superior High School to cover the Rice Lake-Superior boys game on iFan. (Superior won and played the best game I have ever seen them play.)
I was saddened as I read the text as my thoughts raced back to last year when I had planned a pilgrimage to St. Louis to try and meet “The Man.” Life got in the way and I was unable to make the trip, and now I’m saddened by my failure. I know this will pass, but I will forever regret that my son Chris could not have shaken the hand of greatness.
While at Grizzly’s, Chris called me with sadness and the news. Bill Weinandt of Eden Prairie, Minn., and a fellow Cardinal fan knew he had to call. Greg Aker, Chip Flynn and Bob Bennett sent condolences on Facebook. Bob Blake and Tom Hansen have sent texts, and Mike Murray sent an e-mail because they know of my love and respect for the Cardinals and Musial.
It’s now Sunday morning, 3:44 a.m., and I have spent the last couple of hours on the Cardinal website watching the exploits of Musial and the tributes given to him while remembering those wonderful days growing up near St. Louis being able to watch and listen to the Cardinals and Stan. Oh, how I wish I could have met him to shake his hand and thank him for the standards he set as a baseball player and person. Deserving people need to be thanked.
As a die-hard Cardinal fan, I was very upset and disappointed last year when Albert Pujols chose the money of the Los Angeles Angels instead of being loyal and playing his entire career in St. Louis as Musial had.
After a couple of days, I recovered and justified his defection in this way: There was a move by many young Cardinal fans to anoint Pujols as El Hombre. That would have bordered on sacrilege. I’m glad Pujols left the Cardinals because there is only one man in the long and rich history of the Cardinals who should ever be referred to as “the man.”
Yes baseball fans, and those who believe in real human greatness, that man would be my friend, Stan “The Man” Musial, and there will never be another like him.
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