The Greatest Cardinal of them All

a montage showing Musial’s batting stroke

If it were up to my grandfather, there would be no debate about the greatest player ever. He was absolutely certain that Stan Musial was the greatest ballplayer ever. He’d heard Ruth on the radio, seen Walter Johnson pitch in some exhibition game somewhere, had listened over and over to DiMaggio and could quote you some of Ted Williams’ stats. But it didn’t matter, the Cardinals were his team, Musial was his man, and there simply was no reason to even start an argument when you were faced with such absolute certainty.

So my grandfather was off a little on the greatest to ever play the game (although not by much), but he had a superior case for the greatest player to ever come through St. Louis and put on a Cardinals uniform. I once wondered if Albert Pujols was going to run past Stan “the Man” as the greatest Cardinals player ever but it didn’t happen.

Take a quick look at Musial’s first numbers. He played all of 12 games in 1941. He hit .426, had an OPS of 1.023 (OPS+ 179), and had 27 total bases in 47 at bats. Sure it was 12 games and you never decide a man’s career worth on 12 games (unless they occur in the World Series or something), but it was a great portent of things to come. For my grandfather, trying to eke though a living, who had to go visit a neighbor just to hear a ball game on the radio, it was the beginning of something he longed for. He remembered the awful Cardinals teams of the Deadball Era, had listened to the Hornsby Cardinals of the 1920s, loved the Gas House Gang, but he always said he knew from the beginning there was something special about Musial. Maybe it was the magical air of Donora, Pennsylvania, hometown of Musial and Ken Griffey Sr and Ken Griffey Jr (top that outfield in a reasonably small town). But from the beginning my grandfather swore Musial was special.

There was no rookie of the year award in 1942, Musial might have won it if there were. The Cardinals won the World Series, lost in 1943, won again in 1944 and for my grandfather it was the best of times (my wife’s grandfather was a Browns fan and I wonder how they would have dealt with 1944). Musial went to war in 1945, then was back in 1946. St. Louis won the World Series again. It was their last in Musial’s career, but he kept on having great seasons, winning the MVP in 1946 and in 1948 (and already had one from 1943) He finished second in MVP voting in 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1957. Each time my grandfather was sure Musial had been robbed. The only one he half way accepted was Aaron’s in 1957. He was particularly upset with Jim Konstanty’s 1950 win.

During the 1950s as Musial’s career wore down and the Cardinals began floundering, my grandfather was sure they only needed one, or at most two, more players to make it back to the Series, but of course they never got them. Bob Gibson came along in 1959, absolutely unimpressing him (and 1959 wasn’t much for Gibson), but he still had faith. Musial retired after the 1963 season and my grandfather actually wept. The next year St. Louis won the World Series, beating the hated Yankees (who’d never been forgiven for beating the Cardinals in 1943). My grandfather was at a loss. His team had won, but they’d done it without Stan “the Man”. There was obviously something seriously wrong with that scenario.  They won again in 1967, the lost in 1968. There was a part of my grandfather that was almost happy they’d lost. It proved to him just how much Musial meant to the team.

  He died in the 1970s (and, no, we didn’t bury him in a Cardinals uniform) convinced he’d seen the greatest to ever play the game. He wasn’t off by much.

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7 Responses to “The Greatest Cardinal of them All”

  1. Kevin Graham Says:

    Stan the Man should be in everyone’s Top 10 list of all-time greatest hitters.
    Nice post V

  2. w.k. kortas Says:

    Musial’s numbers are special. He gets overshadowed a bit because he never had huge, huge HR numbers–but if you have over 50 doubles a couple times, and 20 triples a couple of times…well, Stan had three seasons with over 90 extra-base hits. That’s flat-out impressive.

  3. William Miller Says:

    We all have our favorites, and sometimes, as with Musial, they really were great. Mine was always Tom Seaver.
    I, too, once thought that Pujols had a chance to catch Musial as the best Cardinal ever. Didn’t happen. Musial remains the best ever.
    Nice post,

  4. footinthebucket Says:

    I’m going to comment again. My comment…. disappeared!

    Ironic, isn’t it, to be comparing two Cardinals of two extremes: The loyal Musial and Pujols, who left St. Louis for the $$$$$.

    Stan Musial was 100 percent class, or so they say. He was loved all over the country, even by baseball fans of other teams, even if they personally hated the St. Louis Cardinals. It was hard to hate Stan Musial.

    Stan Musial did the most unlikely thing, so contrary to what Pujols did, and that was asking for…….. less. Yes, LESS. One season, Musial asked the general manager of the Cardinals to pay him less, because he wasn’t proud of his production of the previous season. He didn’t feel that he warranted such money. So he asked for less!!!

    That’s why he was called “Stan The Man”. Well, he was called that long before he held out for….. less money. But that typified the class that Stan Musial had. That’s one of the reasons that the New York Mets, thinking that 1962 would be Musial’s last season (It turned out to be ’63), held a “Stan Musial Day” at the Polo Grounds, where they honored Musial, gave him the usual gifts, etc. If this ever happened another time or to another player in the major leagues, then I’m not aware of it.

    This is indicative of the appreciation that the fans of ALL teams had for Stan The Man Musial.

    Liked your post, v.

    Glen Russell Slater

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