I was delighted to read Larry Thornberry's marvelous article about Stan "The Man" Musial on the occasion of his 90th birthday this Sunday.
A number of readers who had the good fortune to meet Musial over the years have been kind enough to share their comments. Judging by those comments it is obvious they remember their encounters with Musial with tremendous joy and merriment. With this good cheer in mind, I would like to tell you about the time my Dad met Stan Musial.
It was 1955. My Dad was a freshman at James Monroe High School in the Bronx. One day at Monroe, my father and two of his friends met up with Steve Ray, the school's baseball coach. Ray, who also happened to be a scout with the Chicago White Sox, asked my father and his friends if they wanted to go to the Polo Grounds to see the New York Giants play the St. Louis Cardinals. Did Babe Ruth like hot dogs? So Ray gave my father and his friends free tickets to the Cardinals-Giants game.
Unfortunately, the game was called on a count of rain. Yet my father and his friends remained at the Polo Grounds and they would again meet up with Coach Ray. He asked them, "Would you like to meet some ballplayers?" Did Ty Cobb like breaking up double plays? So Ray led my father and his friends into the Cardinals clubhouse.
At first, Dad was disappointed. When my father was asked if he wanted a chance to meet some ballplayers he assumed he would be meeting members of his beloved Giants, perhaps even Willie Mays. Most 14-year-old boys growing up in New York City in the 1950s would have given both of their arms for a chance to spend five minutes with the Say Hey Kid.
But my father's disappointment proved to be shortlived. Upon entering the Cardinals clubhouse, my father and his friends found themselves in the presence of Stan Musial, "Red" Schoendienst, Al Simmons as well as Cardinals manager Harry "The Hat" Walker. Also in the room was Bill Stern. At the time, Stern was one of the most popular radio sportscasters in America and before my father and his friends knew it, they would become guests on Stern's radio show that afternoon.
My father and his friends were each given a chance to pose a question to the Cardinal of their choice. Despite my father's nervousness, he decided to pose a question to Musial about his approach in the batter's box. Before each pitch, Musial would shake his behind. When Musial stepped up to the plate at the Polo Grounds, Giants fans would shout, "Swish!!! Swish!!!" Needless to say, it didn't prevent him from hitting Giants' pitching.
When it came time for my father to pose his question he asked, "When you get up to bat why do you shake your..." Before my father could say another word there was laughter. It was 1955 after all. Yet Musial was good natured about the question and replied that he did it because that he wanted to be comfortable at the plate and that the more comfortable he was the better he would hit. Well, it worked. In twenty-two big league seasons, Musial would collect 3,630 hits -- fourth best in MLB history. Only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron hit safely more often than Stan the Man.
Oh, about the name "Stan the Man." You might think Musial was given that moniker by Cardinals fans, the local media in St. Louis or by his teammates. But this was not the case. It was bestowed upon him instead by Brooklyn Dodgers fans. When Musial came to bat at Ebbets Field with runners on base, Dodger fans would invariably say, "Oh no!!! Here comes that man again." I think it is safe to conclude that fans in other National League cities felt much the same way.
Now I am sure Dad would still love to meet Willie Mays. But meeting Stan Musial was more than what he could have asked and it remains one of the greatest memories of his childhood, if not his lifetime.
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