In pregame ceremonies prior to the 1999 Major League All-Star Game in Boston, great stars of the past and the present greeted the late Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams, 80, who was driven to the mound in a golf cart. It was an appropriate honor for MBL's last .400 hitter and many say the best hitter of all time.
Ten years later it would be appropriate again for another great Hall of Fame player to be honored at Tuesday's All-Star Game in St. Louis where he played his 22 Major League seasons. Stan "The Man" Musial is 88 and not in good health but he made it to the Cardinals' opener, chauffeured in a golf cart by today's biggest superstar, Albert Pujols. Maybe there can be an encore.
On a national scale, Musial might be the least-remembered superstar. Certainly underappreciated by many. He didn't play amidst the flood of Eastern media like others of his era, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Williams.
Musial didn't break a color barrier, didn't call his shot, didn't intimidate opponents or entertain writers with colorful quips. He never won a home run title. He didn't hit in 56 straight games like DiMaggio, hit .400 like Williams, or rival Mays in spectacular catches or joyous style.
But his ML statistics rank with the best. He's fourth in hits (3,630), sixth in RBIs (1,951)), 9th in runs scored (1,949), third in doubles (725), and third in extra base hits (1,377). He won seven National League batting titles and, in 1948, had one of the top seasons ever, a .376 average with 46 doubles, 18 triples, 39 home runs, and 131 runs batted in. And he was an outstanding fielder and among the swiftier players of his time.
Mays calls Musial the best hitter he's ever seen. Uncoiling from his unique crouching stance, Musial hit .300 or better 18 times and for his ML career batted .331. He hit 475 home runs, a record five homers in a doubleheader against the Giants in 1954, leads in All-Star Game home runs with six, and blasted a 12th-inning walkoff home run in the 1955 All-Star Game in Milwaukee.
At age 42 in 1962, a year before his retirement, Musial hit .330 and batted .615 as a pinch-hitter. He appeared in a record-sharing 24 All-Star games.
Musial got his nickname, "The Man," from Brooklyn fans. Stan tormented the Dodgers for years, particularly at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, and when he'd come to the plate, the Flatbush Faithful would say "Here comes that man."
No player ever had better years against a team than Musial did against the Dodgers in 1948 and 1949. He hit .522 with 24 hits and four home runs against them in '48 and followed in '49 with a .539 average, 23 hits, and six homers.
Son of a Polish immigrant, one of six children, he was raised in a five-room house in Donora, Pa., same hometown of Ken Griffey. Pitt wanted him for basketball but he decided on pro baseball and started out as a pitcher and outfielder in the minor leagues. He had to give up pitching because of a shoulder injury and played both the outfield and first base during his Major League career.
"The perfect warrior" the late baseball commissioner Ford Frick onced called Musial.
Nationally known sportscaster Bob Costa was raised in New York where he idolized DiMaggio, Mantle, and Mays. But now he's a longtime resident of St. Louis and has come to appreciate Musial just as much.
"Musial represents more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being," Costas said.
Bill Robinson is a former Marietta Times sports editor.