At 37, I am hitting middle-aged, with my inner child tugging at my heart and my future self telling me to let him go. Baseball, it seems, is the one thing that tie the eras of my life together. I was not around to watch Stanley Frank Musial play the game. I could only watch through old film, or listen to my grandfather regale me with stories of what seemed to me to be mythical greatness.
At some point, between the tale of the five home run doubleheader, the heroic contributions he made to the war effort, and the genuine anecdotes from literally thousands of St. Louis Cardinals fans who recounted his charm, down to earth every man persona and grace, it was clear to me that I was a part of something very special.
When people ask me why I write on the Cardinals, I tell them it is because it is what is in my heart to do. Through the years, the Birds On The Bat have been more than a successful baseball team — they have been a tie that binds, a tribute to that, if I may paraphrase James Earl Jones, which is good. Integrity, effort, will.
Nobody personifies these traits more than Mr. Musial. A man of boundless energy, love and strength, he lived a life illuminated by baseball prowess that, in every respect, was Hall of Fame off the field. You may not know that in 1960, frustrated and in acknowledgement of his less than superior 1959 season, he accepted a cut in pay simply because he believed in being paid what he was worth.
You see, in his mind, it did not matter what had come prior; the gentleman before him has every right to make a business decision based upon performance, and he held no ill will. Instead, he increased the amount of work required to maintain excellence, and before his career’s end, would once again reach his historic standards.
Mr. Musial came from a different era, where handshakes had meaning and friendships were not bridges to career goals, but foundations for a lifetime of meaning, substance and character. Stan and his beloved Lil enjoyed 72 years of marriage before her passing, no doubt simply because the Grand Gentleman of Baseball understood that women belong on a pedestal and the Mrs. comes first.
While I could write on the statistics most of us know by heart — the 475 home runs, the 3,630 hits — that would be a simple recitation of a resume, not the measure of the greatness of this man. Whether it be the conversations he had with the firefighter or the time spent with my own family at his restaurant, the stories of Mr. Musial’s warmth keep the Midwest warm on even the coldest of winter days — yes, even Chicago.
Albert Pujols is right, there is only one Man, and there will forever be in Cardinal Nation one Man by which the rest are measured. Musial is an American hero in every sense of the word, and a source of pride and respect for Cardinal fans everywhere.
Due in massive measure to Mr. Musial, there is no greater birthright than being born into the bloodlines of the legacy of the Cardinals. The tradition, the camaraderie, the sheer joy for America’s game that is passed down from generation to generation are gifts that no amount of wealth nor title of nobility can equal. Rich or poor, black or white, to be a Cardinal is forever, and to be part of a family millions large, united by one coat of arms.
Yes, while it is true that his remarkable feat on the field of five home runs in one doubleheader, May 2, 1954, reminded me once again of The Man’s baseball greatness. I write not for the home runs he hit on a field 60 years ago, but for the home runs he hit everyday of his life as a person. You see, this is why we, in Cardinal Nation, are of royal descent, because in our baseball bloodlines live forever the genes of baseball’s Perfect Prince.