Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering "The Man"

I wish I could say I knew Stan Musial, but I did not.

He played in an era before I was born and I was never fortunate enough to meet him. 

My father never told me stories about watching Musial play when he was young, because he never saw him play.  Although my dad lived in Clayton, Missouri for a while when he was young and got to see Dizzy Dean pitch against Carl Hubbell, his family moved to Central Illinois during his formative years and they never ventured down to St. Louis to take in a game.

But if there is one thing I do know about The Man, its his stats.  And boy did he put up some fantastic stats.

As a Cardinal fan and a Strat-o-Matic fanatic in the late 70's and throughout the 1980's, I made it my goal to own every Cardinal team set that Strat-o-Matic put out.  I was thrilled when they issued the 1946 Cardinals team, so I could get my hands on Stan's incredible .365/.434/.487 season (with 16 HR's).  Put that card into one of my Cardinals All-Star Strat teams and I could give those Yankees juggernaut All-Star Strat teams a run for the money.

I was disappointed that Stan's best year, 1948, in which he hit .376/.450/.702 with 39 HR's (just missing the triple crown by one HR) was only available through Strat's Hall of Fame set.  (I just couldn't justify to myself paying that kind of money to get one card). 

But it went beyond Strat-o-matic.  I can remember pouring through the Baseball Encyclopedia to see his year to year stats and his career stats.  The one thing that sticks out to this day is his lack of strikeouts.  In 10,972 at bats, Musial only struck out 696 times or just over 6%. 

One can truly say that Stan Musial was a HITTER first and foremost.  It was only after his stellar 1948 season that he became a hitter with power.

During his first 5 seasons, he never hit more than 19 homeruns and, despite 475 career homeruns, Musial only average 25 per 162 games.  Compared to some of the power hitters of his time--Ralph Kiner (41HR/162 games), Hank Greenberg (38), Ted Williams (37), Willie Mays (36) and Mickey Mantle (36)-- all had higher 162 game homerun averages.  But only Williams had a higher career batting average.

Looking at all his amazing stats, I often wished that I was born much earlier so I could have seen him play.  To see him smack the ball all over the field with his unusual corkscrew swing.  I can only imagine what it would have been like and the buzz that would go around the ballpark when he came up to bat. 

Like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial will live on through his stats and the stories of others.  And, like many of you, I will spend this week reading all I can about "The Man" from other writers who knew him or saw him play.

But, if they ever invent the time machine, I'm going back to 1948 and getting season tickets to the Cardinals so I can watch the master at work.

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