The nickname was simple but effective.
Off the baseball field, he was humble and endearingly uncomplicated. On the diamond, though, Stan “The Man” Musial was fearsome. His unorthodox batting stance – knees together, back hunched, torso contorted so that his jersey number nearly faced the pitcher – unleashed a torrent of wickedness and produced some of the most impressive results in Major League history.
For 22 seasons, all with the St. Louis Cardinals, Musial terrorized big league pitchers – finishing his brilliant career with a .331 lifetime batting average, 475 home runs, three MVP awards, seven batting titles, and an eclectic brew of envy, respect, and dread from the men he bested.
He triumphed so often and so thoroughly from the batter’s box that opponents flinched at the thought of seeing him at the plate. After all, he was The Man – the player whose lethal skill sent shivers up spines with a game in the balance. But that anxiety was tempered by Musial’s unfailing sportsmanship and grace in victory. He beat you, but he never gloated. His remarkable ability did all of the talking, and he was honorable enough to let that suffice.
Because of that decency, Musial’s stunning accomplishments in the game left an even greater impression.
He certainly had every reason to be arrogant. His 3,630 career hits were the most in National League history when he retired and remained at that apex for 18 years until Pete Rose eclipsed the mark in 1981. His 6,134 total bases are still the second highest in Major League history behind only Hank Aaron. He played in 24 All-Star games and holds the record for most home runs in All-Star competition with six. He was also a three-time World Champion and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 with over 93% of the vote.
Still, he went through life with a smile rather than a self-important smirk.
He told corny jokes with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy and was known for playing a harmonica in public whenever the mood struck him.
After his playing days, he stayed in St. Louis and remained an approachable and happy presence in the community. The sun was always shining in Stan Musial’s world, and fans loved him as much for his joyous deposition as for his lofty position in the game’s history.
And for a franchise with a pedigree that includes icons like Rogers Hornsby, Bob Gibson, and Dizzy Dean, it was Stan the Man who came to embody the essence of the Cardinals – proud and earnest and respectful of the game and its rich history.
So, when Musial passed away on January 19 at the age of 92, a significant piece of one of baseball’s great teams and cities went with him. In an age where athletes are vilified for selfishness and ethical indifference and the media delights in holding a self-important stance over such exposés, the loss of a genuinely kind and gracious sports legend is all the more poignant.
Perhaps, the true legacy of Musial’s extraordinary life isn’t to be found in the eye-popping numbers he produced on the baseball diamond. Rather, his greatest impact has more to do with how he achieved all of those remarkable things – with undeniable charisma and humility. It is a lesson that present-day athletes and those who cover them would be wise to fully appreciate.
He had a simple nickname, but The Man did something that few others can ever claim. He reached true greatness without ever losing himself along the way.