The Man Who Wasn’t There - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Man Who Wasn’t There

St. Louis

Outside Busch Stadium stands an iconic statue of “The Man,” the baseball Cardinals’ greatest player, Stan Musial. St. Louisans like to remember Musial according to Commissioner Ford Frick’s description as “baseball’s perfect knight.”

During and after his career on the field, Musial did not seek out controversy on social and political issues, but neither did he avoid taking a stand when it mattered. The chroniclers of his career give him credit for strength and grace in supporting Jackie Robinson and other black players who were the pioneers in breaking down the racial barriers in the game. Following his retirement as a player in 1963, the Pennsylvania native Musial settled into St. Louis to make it his permanent home until his death 50 years later.

As the son of a Polish immigrant, Musial cultivated contacts in the old country with both discretion and substantial impact. Before Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, Musial had become a friend and benefactor of the Polish archbishop and his charitable and evangelical efforts under the Communist dictatorship. During his half century as St. Louis’s retired baseball icon, Musial was a fixture at civic and charity events, avoiding controversy and leveraging his popularity to raise funds for good causes.

This season, the Cardinals team features three accomplished and popular players who are soon to retire and likely are headed for the Hall of Fame: pitcher Adam Wainwright, catcher Yadier Molina, and slugger Albert Pujols. Each of these, like Musial, will be venerated by fans for years to come.

The team also includes a sullen, pampered young pitcher with a compulsion to spout angry left-wing political rants against the values and consciences of fellow players and much of the Cardinals’ fan base.

After a promising start to his career, Jack Flaherty, hampered with a series of injuries and the national COVID restrictions, has contributed almost nothing to his team for two years or so. That has not deterred him from posturing as baseball’s woke loudmouth counterpart to Colin Kaepernick. Nor has it prevented the official and conventional baseball media from continuing to call the floundering, unproductive player the team’s “ace” pitcher.

Flaherty was idled by an injury for much of the 2021 season. When he returned to the mound against the Chicago Cubs near the end of the season in late September after a long absence, he lasted only one third of an inning, allowing two runs on two hits and a walk while striking out a batter.

He relapsed onto the injured list and was inactive until last week. Returning to pitch before a friendly St. Louis audience on June 15, he was pulled out of the game after three shaky innings. He gave up two earned runs and two more unearned runs as the first-place Cardinals lost to the pushover Pittsburgh Pirates.

Contrasts between Musial and Flaherty could not be more stark.

On the field, Musial was The Man. Flaherty is becoming The Man Who Wasn’t There.

Off the field, the contrasts are if anything even more dramatic.

During World War II, Musial enlisted and served in the Navy for more than a year, including all of the 1945 season. He was discharged from the Navy just in time for the 1946 season, in which he won the Most Valuable Player award and led the Cardinals to a World Series championship.

During the summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter rioters murdered a black St. Louis police captain, David Dorn. The rioters also destroyed many public and private properties, including a number of black-owned businesses in the Gateway City.

Flaherty, just 24 years old at the time, and idled by the COVID lockdown, sat brooding in his Los Angeles mansion, discerning that his true calling was to be a Social Justice Warrior. He took to Twitter and other social media repeatedly to proclaim his solidarity with the rioters.

Flaherty has played very little baseball since then, but he continues to be a standout on social media in left-wing extremist political agitation.

A week before his failed return to the Cardinals pitcher’s mound this month, Flaherty took it upon himself to heap abuse on the five Tampa Bay Rays players who opted out of wearing an LGBTQ Pride Month logo during a game.

“Absolute joke,” Flaherty said of his fellow major leaguers’ decision, based on their Christian faith, to decline to wear rainbow logos on their uniforms.

This is a stunning offense against fellow citizens’ right to hold and practice religious beliefs free from harassment. It’s an even more shocking violation of the canons of major league baseball sportsmanship. If the prevailing culture of Big Media, Big Corporations, and Big Baseball were not so one-sided in sympathy for aggressive wokeness, Flaherty’s insult against the Christian faith of the Tampa players rightly and widely would be called “hate speech.”

A few Cardinals fans here and there might share Flaherty’s political attitudes. But for the most part, the fan base is conservative.

The territory often called “Cardinals Nation” encompasses the rural eastern half of Missouri and all of southern Illinois. It also reaches into western Kentucky and much of Arkansas. On home game weekends, St. Louis’s long-suffering hotel and restaurant industries get a boost from families who travel often 100 or even 200 miles each way from farms and little towns to attend Cardinals games. For many of these families, this is one of the biggest events of the year.

The people of rural Cardinals Nation are church-going, believing Christians, predominantly Baptists, Catholics and Lutherans. They are pro-life and pro-family. Most of them are white but very few of them are racists. The 95 percent or so who are the non-racists are bewildered and resentful at being accused by the likes of Flaherty, against all evidence, of racism. Combine operators and feed store clerks don’t accept Flaherty’s views of them as nefarious exploiters of “privilege.”

Whatever else one might say about Flaherty, clearly he is completely out of touch with the majority of the Cardinals’ fan base.

The mid-20th century umpire Tom Gorman once said, “The bigger the guy, the less he argues. You never heard a word out of Stan Musial or Willie Mays or Roberto Clemente. They never tried to make you look bad.”

Cardinals fans, a gracious and forgiving tribe, will cheer Flaherty if he recovers his ability to be a competent pitcher. A great many of them will be even happier if Flaherty stops trying to make them look bad.

Joseph Duggan is an investor and business owner in his hometown of St. Louis.

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