No, I did not personally know Stan Musial. Like many of you, I never had the good fortune to meet The Man. But that’s not what this is about. This is about simply becoming aware of Stan “The Man” Musial as a modern-day Cardinals fan.
So many members of Cardinal Nation are generational fans. Their fathers were fans, their grandfathers and grandmothers were fans, and so on and so on into the fourth and fifth generations. They were raised with the St. Louis Cardinals, and being a fan was less a choice and more a tradition – an honored, treasured family tradition.
Fans who grow into Cardinal Nation this way know who Stan Musial is. They know about his 1,815 hits at home and his 1,815 hits on the road. They know that 1969 means not Woodstock but Stan “The Man” Musial’s induction into the Hall of Fame. And they know that even if they’ve never met The Man, they, as a member of Cardinal Nation, inherently share a precious relationship with “…Baseball’s Perfect Warrior…Baseball’s Perfect Knight.”
But then there is a different group of fans, those fans who are no less members of Cardinal Nation but those who still came to it by way of a different route.
My father was a baseball fan. That was it. He enjoyed the games on Saturday afternoons in our Southwest Missouri home, but it wasn’t necessarily the Royals or the Cardinals or the Yankees that would make him turn on a game. It was just baseball.
My youth was spent listening to stories – some of them 100% true, others somewhat exaggerated – of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, George Brett, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, etc. It didn’t matter who they played so long as it was baseball.
I am not my father. Yes, I ingested his love of baseball, but I cannot stand by and watch passively without choosing a side. It did not take long to choose the Cardinals, and from then on, my membership process in Cardinal Nation developed.
I suppose it started as any other love, with visible and superficial attraction. My focus was certainly on the immediate, the players in front of me. Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Jack Clark, etc. Later, it was Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, Mark McGwire, more. And of course, it blossomed into Pujols, Rolen, Carpenter, Molina, Wainwright, and so on. As a fan, a fan of any team or club, we often focus on those that are right in front of us.
But then there are the special clubs who have such a rich history that it becomes impossible to be an enduring fan without it. Giants fans worship Mays, and Yankee fans revel in the tragic stories of Mantle and Gehrig, superstar stories of Ruth and Dimaggio, and a few grassroots icons like Whitey Ford. But none of them…not a one…is like Cardinal Nation.
In the midwest, we like to talk about the ignorance of the national fan when it comes to Missouri baseball. “If he played in New York…” is a common introduction to most statements of outrage. And that is true…but also no less true is our desire to keep it that way.
We honor and treasure our Cardinal heroes, the Gibsons and Brocks, the Whiteys and Smiths, and yes, the Musials. We keep them close, and we do all that we can to keep them intimately protected. We love them.
Somewhere along the line, my development as a Cardinal fan entered the hallowed halls of Cardinal Nation history. I don’t remember the exact moment, but there was a moment in which I most certainly heard the name “Stan Musial” and thought…”Who?” I didn’t know his name like Mantle and Mays, didn’t dream of playing like him as I did Babe Ruth, but it soon became apparent that getting to know him – as a fan, as a member of the Cardinal Nation family – was not an option.
Over the years, I’ve heard quite a bit about Stan Musial. Many call him the most underrated athlete in all of baseball, if not all of American sports. I can’t argue with that. But most also point to his status as a man – as The Man. A gentleman. A humanitarian. A friend. A cherished grandfather and father. A beloved husband.
By all accounts, he was all of that and so much more. He was our hero, and he never – not once – failed us in that honored position.
There’s not much to be said about Stan that hasn’t already been said, but perhaps that leaves room for the personal, for those of us who “knew Stan” in ways the rest of the country did not, to share our intimate stories.
I will miss Stan’s smile, his unassuming way of embracing Cardinal Nation. He welcomed me on Opening Day, and he blessed each new season. Seeing Stan at Busch or on TV was easily the best reason to attend the home opener in St. Louis. Not horses or singers or an eagle that, more often than not, gets lost on it’s way to its handler on the field. But for Stan.
Mr. Musial, you will be missed. We love you and will always cherish you.