I was on my way to dinner with my family last night when my phone started ringing – it was Josh, one of my cohorts at this very site. He had spent the afternoon at the Cards Caravan in Joplin, and I assumed he was calling with a great story about that event. I let it go to voicemail, I’d be able to catch up with him later. When I saw the “breaking news” scroll on the bottom of the television at my destination, I knew he hadn’t called with a story. Stan was gone.
Sports has this transcendent way of affecting us all, such that two guys that were total strangers six years ago, and have come together over a common fan interest and a website would be calling one or the other on the telephone because we had lost baseball’s perfect knight. Not only that, but I found myself tearing up in the middle of a loud, fun restaurant.
The power of sports: I am at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Chicagoland, fighting back tears. And I’m failing. #RIPStan
— Nick W. (@PitchersHit8th) January 20, 2013
I don’t have a personal story, like many native St. Louisans do, about meeting Stan Musial. Stan never played me a song on his harmonica, he never signed an autograph on my hat, or asked me “Whaddya say?”
But as many native St. Louisans will tell you, it’s easy to imagine that all of the stories of kindness Musial performed happened to you. He was so accessible, so humble, so kind, we can all envision being on the receiving end of a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in perfect pitch. He was, after all, The Man.
I’m not going to recount all of his statistics. If you’re here reading this, you probably already know them. If you don’t, let’s just say he was a brilliant ballplayer.
He was a better man. He wasn’t a perfect man, as much as Ford Frick might disagree, but he certainly aspired to it and came a hell of a lot closer than many of us will. Maybe that’s why we’re so emotional about losing Stan. Because we all wish we could be him, not for the fame and stature, but to be the man he was, to be idolized for the way we live our lives.
Very simply, Stan lived his life the way we all know we should. When presented with the opportunity to go out of our way to help someone, how many of us, without fail, grasp that opportunity and own it the way Stan did? We’ve all read the stories throughout the years, the ones Joe Posnanski recounted in his remembrance of Stan today:
Harry Caray, who knew Musial for more than a half century, often would tell the story of Musial wandering out after a steaming doubleheader, looking as if he’d been through 15 rounds, and every single thing in his body language said he just wanted to go home and lie down. Instead, when he got to his car, he found fans waiting for him.
“Watch this,” Caray told a friend, and sure enough Musial’s whole body straightened — like Popeye after spinach — and he shouted, “Whaddya say! Whaddya say!” and he signed every autograph. Caray loved telling that story not because it was unusual, but for the opposite reason: Because it was ordinary. Even in his time, when baseball players weren’t paid as much and, so, were more a part of the community, Musial stood apart.
Yes, this was extraordinary behavior for a baseball player, especially one of Musial’s stature and even more so in a town that so revered him. Even more than that, isn’t it just extraordinary behavior for a human being? Stan set an example no one could follow, ballplayer or otherwise. I’m not sure if Stan truly knew how he impacted people, how many faces he lit up, how he could make a young child’s and grown man’s day alike just by sending a cupcake across a busy restaurant. For me, he did it even without the personal story.
I was at Busch III on Stand For Stan Day in October of 2010. I didn’t plan it that way, it was a coincidence. I was in town visiting family for a weekend, with my recently expanded family, and we secured tickets for Saturday’s game. I knew there was a campaign, I knew there would be a day at the ballpark, I didn’t know until we arrived at the stadium that we’d be there for it. So would The Man. I couldn’t believe our luck.
My son was just a little over seven months old that day, attending his first Cardinal game. On a day that the greatest Cardinal of all time would be in the stadium, and celebrated. I teared up that day, my son in my arms, watching Stan tour around the ballpark. Just as I did on Opening Day in 2006 when Stan circled the new field, just as I did last night when I learned that Stan had passed, just as I’m doing off and on while writing this. Whether my son will remember it or not, I will, and I’ll never let him forget. He saw Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal ever. Baseball’s perfect warrior, baseball’s perfect knight.
Stan Musial was that rare person that could have such an impact on people that he never met, never saw.
So thanks, Stan. Thank you for sharing your baseball gift with the world. Thank you for being the gold standard for how we should all treat each other. Thank you for setting an example of love with your dear Lil. And thank you for being there for my little boy’s first Cardinal game. We miss you.