Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1- St. Louis Cardinals

Growing up, I never had an issue with the St. Louis Cardinals. They had won the 1982 World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers a few months before I was born, and I honestly don’t recall watching the 1985 World Series when they lost to the Kansas City Royals. My only experience I can really remember from the 1980s was when they lost to the Minnesota Twins in the 1987 World Series in seven games. It would be the last real season of greatness for Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog as the 1990s would usher in the Joe Torre era of Cardinals baseball. The extent of my knowledge of the Cardinals at the time relied heavily upon the Topps baseball cards I collected and the occasional games I’d catch on TV whenever they played the Atlanta Braves or Chicago Cubs. To be honest, the only reason I ever cared about catching any bit of the game was for the same reason any kid growing up in the 80s and 90s would, to watch Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith do his tumbling act as he took to the field. If I had the patience to actually watch the game back then I always made sure to catch the at-bats for Smith, Vince Coleman and Willie McGee, as they were my favorite players from those squads. Yes, those mediocre years for the Cardinals were some of my favorite to watch.

I have a much more vivid memory of the first day when I started hating the Cardinals; April 1, 1996, the first day of the Tony LaRussa era. As a die-hard Oakland Athletics fan for a solid 26 years of my life, there are very few moments of absolute anguish in my baseball fandom, but LaRussa jumping ship from the bay to take the helm for the Cards is definitely in my Top-five. I was 13-years-old at the time and I was finally starting to get a grasp on all of the historical numbers within Major League Baseball. The one that shot out at me the hardest back then was the number nine; as in nine World Series championships won by both the A’s and Cardinals. The New York Yankees were, and still are virtually uncatchable; however, being number two on the list was a nice little token to keep in one’s pocket. 1996 was an especially scary year for A’s fans on account of the Cardinals coming within one game of playing in the World Series that year. Luckily for us, the Braves owned the 1990s in the National League, and took down the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series in seven games. I should also point out that it really sucked to see Dennis Eckersley follow LaRussa to St. Louis as well.

In 1997 the world kind of righted itself out as the Cardinals fell back in the standings to a level of mediocrity that I recalled from my earlier years. All was going well until the trade deadline on July 31st; the last day I would ever see Mark McGwire in an A’s uniform. My favorite player was gone; and he of course broke the single-season home run record in his first full season in 1998. As happy I was for his accomplishment I couldn’t help but think of how much more fitting it would have been to see him do it in the green and gold.

2006 was a great year to be an A’s fan. Years of hard work and sacrifice finally paid off as the A’s got out of the American League Division Series in a 3-0 sweep of the Twins, the team that had shattered our hopes in the same series during our magical 2002 “Moneyball” run. The Cardinals had progressed as well into the NLCS and we had a seemingly easy battle ahead of us in the American league Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, but alas, our date with destiny failed to be. The Tigers smoked the A’s in four games and proceeded to get thwarted four games to one in the World Series against the Cardinals. The World Series tie was broken. The A’s were now the third best team in MLB history. 2011 made matters worse as the Cardinals once again held the crown high after winning and epic seven-game series against the Texas Rangers.

I had the highest of hopes going into the 2012 season as the A’s representative in the MLB Fan Cave, but I also had some stiff competition from the Cardinals rep Kyle Thompson. During the Top-30 audition process in Arizona I got a feel for him and went back to Oregon not being overtly impressed by him, but I had a strong feeling that he would make his way to New York with me. My intuition was sharp as this became a reality. I don’t dwell too much on our interaction in this post, but I assure that it will come up farther down the road. All I can tell you is that if all Cardinals were like Kyle, any justification I have for hating Cardinals fans would be legitimate.

On April 13, 2012 the Cardinals celebrated their home opener against the Chicago Cubs and it became the only day that I would ever wear Cardinals gear in the Fan Cave. It became quickly known by everyone inside and outside of the Fan Cave that I had an array of gear from every team. Even though I was there to represent the A’s I always felt it was more of my duty to represent baseball for all of the fans who did not have a representative. I care about the game too much to be a one dimensional fan. So, knowing that I had a few family friends in attendance at Busch Stadium that day, all of which had signs of support for me in the Fan Cave if they ever got on TV, I wore my Bob Gibson player-T and a Cardinals hat to show my support. Everyone was cool with this; everyone except Kyle. One of the deals I had made with the other eight Cave Dwellers was that I would never wear any gear for their team if any players or representatives came into the Fan Cave. I knew that this was their day and I did not want to spoil their fun in any way. Since this was an Opening Day occasion and we weren’t exactly celebrating anything in the Fan Cave that day, I didn’t see a big deal in what I was doing. My reasons were justified and I didn’t exactly do anything to shift the attention to myself, especially considering that the cameras were NOT rolling that day. But to Kyle, I had invaded his turf. This would be the first time that he and I had a bit of a spat. I just shrugged it off and told him to relax, something he apparently didn’t want to hear. As confrontational as I can be I didn’t want this situation to make anyone look bad so I just let it slide. Besides, the games were starting. It’s not like I had time to go back to the apartment and change. I suppose I could have just walked around shirtless, showing off my tattoos, but I’m pretty sure that would have been taken as attention-getting as well. So, I did the only thing I could do… watch the game.

I didn’t know much of what the Cardinals had planned for the day as there was a slight drizzle falling upon the crowd which had postponed the ceremonies for a bit. Then, in a little white golf cart, out came Stan Musial. I’ve never had much of a problem with teams bringing out players from their past for such an occasion, but this is one of the few times I remember feeling uncomfortable. Musial’s health was visibly fading fast, and it really didn’t look like he wanted to be there; however, he put on a smile and went out to the pitchers mound to greet the sold out crowd in typical Stan the Man fashion. He was 91-years-old, but he could still light up the room from his presence alone. One of the greatest to ever play the game, he owned that day, even in the short period of time he was there to congratulate the team on winning the World Series the previous year. In an instant it was over. Musial was carted off the field the same way he came in, but all of use knew that this was probably going to be one of the last times we’d ever see him. On January 19 of this year Musial passed away at the age of 92 at his home in Laude, Missouri. The last hero from the Golden Era of baseball was gone.

I had wanted to pick up a vintage Cardinals cap for years, but my angst toward the team had always stepped in the way. To make matters worse, my opinion of Kyle had spilled over into my social media content and I really wanted nothing to do with the Cardinals. It would take months before I could even bring myself to watching or talking about the team publicly, and the thing that made everything click was my trip to St. Louis on September 8 as the Cardinals took on the Brewers. I had kept to myself for most of the game, not really wanting to interact with anyone, and trying to avoid a confrontation. To my amazement small groups of people spotted me sitting in the centerfield bleachers and came over to introduce themselves to me. Everyone I chatted with recognized me from my time in the Fan Cave and every one of them asked why I wasn’t there anymore. In so few words I did my best to explain that it was a “business decision” and that Kyle was one of the roots of that move. Of all the people I talked to, not a single one liked Kyle. They all felt he was making Cardinals fans look “psychotic” and “uneducated.” I just sat and listened with a cracked smile on my face. I was so happy that I was not the only one who saw this. Needless to say, my illusions of the Cardinals and their fans changed for the better that night. I had a blast. The mascot became one of my biggest fans after I took a picture with him and I was regaled by stories from the Musial days by a few of the older couples strewn about the crowd. I also got a phone number from a Cardinals fan who was on vacation from LSU, but nothing happened. I think the one thing I took away from my trip to Busch Stadium was an education of how my emotions had gotten the better of me for years. I still hate the team, from a sports competition perspective, but I have a greater respect for the people who help the fan base thrive. For that, I finally broke down and picked up some classic Cardinals caps.

This cap in particular is one of two I really wanted to have in my collection. I picked it up from a Web site called, a shop based out of Cooperstown, New York who specializes in classic memorabilia. Most of the old school hats in my collection have come from here and I have no means of stopping shopping with them anytime soon. This was the third period of Cardinals hat to feature any kind of a logo on the front of the cap since 1893. The first two eras I have yet to find for sale, but I’m not one to let that stop me. This cap was used from 1940-1955; first as their home and alternate road cap in 1940 until it took over as their game cap from 1941-1950. In 1951-1952 the Cardinals used it as their home only cap as they had introduced the same cap with a navy blue bill as their road cap for those two seasons. Then, in 1953-1955, the Cardinals went back to the red billed cap for home and away games until switching to the navy blue billed cap for all of their games starting in 1956. Even though Musial missed only one year of wearing this cap (1940) throughout its existence I couldn’t think of anyone better to pay tribute to.

.331/475/1951- This will probably go down as one of the longest marks I’ve written on any of my caps. Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania, the fifth of Lukasz and Mary (Lancos) Musiał's six children (four girls and two boys). His mother was of Czech descent and his father was a Polish immigrant who chose the name Stanisław Franciszek for his first son, though his father always referred to Musial using the Polish nickname Stasiu, pronounced "Stashu." Musial frequently played baseball with his brother Ed and other friends during his childhood, and considered Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia Athletics his favorite ballplayer. Musial also had the benefit of learning about baseball from his neighbor Joe Barbao, a former minor league pitcher. When he enrolled in school, his name was formally changed to Stanley Frank Musial.
At age 15 Musial joined the Donora Zincs, a semi-professional team managed by Barbao.  In his Zincs debut he pitched six innings and struck out 13 batters, all of them adults. Musial also played one season on the newly revived Donora High School baseball team, where one of his teammates was Buddy Griffey, father of MLB player Ken Griffey, Sr. and grandfather to Ken Griffey, Jr. Baseball statistician Bill James described the younger Griffey, in comparison to Musial, as "the second-best left-handed hitting, left-handed throwing outfielder ever born in Donora, Pennsylvania, on November 21."
Musial had received a scholarship offer to play basketball from the University of Pennsylvania, but opted to sign with the Cardinals as a free agent. Musial's father initially resisted the idea of his son pursuing a baseball career, but reluctantly gave his consent after lobbying by both Musial and his mother. Musial also credited his school librarian Helen Kloz for pointing out that baseball was his dream and advising him to pursue it professionally. In what was then a common practice, the Cardinals did not file the contract with the baseball commissioner's office until June 1938. This preserved Musial's amateur eligibility, and he was still able to participate in high school sports, leading Donora High School's basketball team to a playoff appearance. He then reported to the Cardinals' Class D affiliate in West Virginia, the Williamson Red Birds.

Musial’s minor league days had its ups and downs. He married Lillian Labash on May 25, 1940 and the couple’s first child followed in August. His playing days took a turn for the worst shortly after as he suffered a shoulder injury that same month while playing in the outfield. For a while Musial considered leaving baseball entirely, complaining that he could not afford to support himself and his wife on the $16 a week pay. His then manager and lifetime friend Dickie Kerr talked him out of it, and even took the Musials into his own home to relieve the financial burden. To repay the debt Musial bought Kerr a $20,000 home in Houston in 1958. In 113 games in 1940 he hit .311, while compiling an 18–5 pitching record that included 176 strikeouts and 145 walks.

Musial was assigned to the Class AA Columbus Red Birds to begin 1941, though manager, Burt Shotton, and Musial himself quickly realized that the previous year's injury had considerably weakened his arm. He was reassigned to the Class C Springfield Cardinals as a full-time outfielder, and he later credited manager, Ollie Vanek, for displaying confidence in his hitting ability. During 87 games with Springfield Musial hit a league-leading .379, before being promoted to the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. He was noted for his unique batting stance, a crouch in which his back was seemingly square to the pitcher. This stance was later described by pitcher, Ted Lyons, as "a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops were coming". According to a 1950 description by author Tom Meany, "The bent knees and the crouch give him the appearance of a coiled spring, although most pitchers think of him as a coiled rattlesnake." Musial continued to play well in Rochester—in one three-game stretch, he had 11 hits. He was called up to the Cardinals for the last two weeks of the 1941 season. Musial made his MLB debut on September 17, 1941 and played in the final 12 games of the season. In the 47 at-bats he received he made every one of them count, going .417 with 20 hits, a home run, seven RBI and scoring eight runs. Musial would never see a game in the Minor Leagues again throughout his playing career.

Everything I’ve ever know about Musial has come from watching old game footage from the likes of Ken Burns Baseball and the amazing stories I’ve heard over the years from older fans who witnessed him play when they were kids. It kind of bums me out when I do these longer posts on the legends of the game and I have no personal account of seeing them play. Most of their stories I have to piece together from encyclopedias and stat sheets, but what’s most impressive about Musial is how much you can derive from his playing years simply by looking at the numbers. In 1942 there was a Rookie of the Year award, but not on the grand scale like it is today. Sports writers in each league awarded one up-and-coming star per league (like today) and that was about it. There wasn’t any kind of a formal award until 1947. But, what I can tell you about 1942 is that had there been such an award, Musial would have won it easily. In his first full season in the Majors Musial finished in 12th place for the NL MVP. Four of his teammates finished ahead of him and only one of them had a better batting average than he did: Enos Slaughter at .318. Musial’s .315 average was something to boast about. Very few had seen such consistency out of someone so young and very few thought it would last. Boy were they wrong. 1942 was also an interesting year because it would be marked as the ONLY full season that Musial would play in which he didn’t make the All-Star roster. That’s right; Musial made 20 consecutive All-Star appearances with the exception of 1945 which I’ll get to in a moment.

In 1943 Musial proved his worth by winning the first of seven batting titles he’d attain throughout his career. He hit .357 and lead the league in: triples (20), doubles (48) and hits (200). That season he won his first of three NL MVP awards, beating out his teammate Walker Cooper that year who had finished one spot ahead of him in voting the previous year. Musial would go on to win the NL MVP award two more times in 1946 and 1948, each time leading the league in average, triples, doubles, hits, runs and RBI once in 1948 with 131. 1945 was the only year from 1942-1958 where Musial was not on the NL MVP list due to the fact that he had been drafted into the US Navy to fight for his country in World War II. His military career would last 15 months. He never saw combat during his time as he was assigned to rebuild ship in Pearl Harbor.

In his return to baseball in 1946 Musial received his moniker during a game at Ebbets Field. During the Cardinals June 23rd game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bob Broeg heard Dodger fans chanting whenever Musial came to bat, but could not understand the words. Later that day over dinner, Broeg asked Cardinals traveling secretary Leo Ward if he had understood what the Dodger fans had been chanting. Ward said, "Every time Stan came up they chanted, 'Here comes the man!'" "'That man,' you mean", Broeg said. "No, the man", replied Ward. Broeg mentioned this story in his Post-Dispatch column, and Musial was thereafter known as Stan "The Man".

In 1959 Musial lost a bit of his step, which he later contributed to “improper physical conditioning.” It would be one of three years in which he would not be in the running for the NL MVP as he hit a career-worst .255 that season. That’s really funny to think about considering that most currently player would kill to have that as their best average in a season. But what do you expect from a guy who hit .331 lifetime? Musial was so displeased by his performance that he took a $20,000 pay cut to prove that he could do better and enlisted the help of Walter Eberhardt, the director of physical education at St. Louis University. In 1960 he finished 16th for the NL MVP, hitting .275 on the season, but failed to make the list in 1961 despite hitting .288. In 1962 he finished in 10th despite hitting .330 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI. It’s kind of incredible that he finished so low if you ever take a chance to look at the who finished ahead of him.

Musial's last game, on September 29, 1963, was preceded by an hour-long retirement ceremony. Speakers at the event included baseball commissioner Ford Frick, Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray, and Cardinals owner Gussie Busch, who announced that Musial's uniform number "6" would be retired by the team. During the game, Musial recorded a single in the fourth inning, and then hit a single to right field that scored teammate Curt Flood in the sixth. Cardinals’ manager Johnny Keane brought in Gary Kolb as a pinch-runner for Musial, bringing his major league career to an end. Just as he had recorded two base hits in his major league debut, Musial finished his last game with two hits, as well. Musial would finish with the all time National League record and second to only Ty Cobb on the all time Major League list. Musial's last hit in his career was hit past the Cincinnati Reds second baseman at the time, Pete Rose, who would later break Cobb's record to become the all time hit king.

Musial ended his playing career with 3,630 hits, a .311 average, 475 home runs and 1,951 RBI. He as inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. He is, and will forever be the face of the organization.

One thing that I learned about Musial during my time in St. Louis, and then again a few weeks ago in Tampa was that he was quite the accomplished harmonica player which included his rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". Through the 1990s, he frequently played the harmonica at public gatherings, such as the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony and various charity events.  He performed on the television show Hee Haw and in 1994 and recorded 18 songs that were sold in tandem with a harmonica-playing instruction booklet.

In 2010 the Cardinals launched a campaign to build support for awarding Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of achievement and service. The campaign realized its goal, and on February 15, 2011, Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama who called him "an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate."

I never got to see him again when he made his last public appearance before Game four of the 2012 NLCS, but from what I heard, it wasn’t much different than when I saw him on TV in the Fan Cave for Opening Day. It was hard enough seeing someone who had touched so many lives in such a weakened state, but that unfortunately is the sad reality of life. At some point we’ll all get to that state, but it’s how we adapt to it is what truly tests our character. Musial was a great guy through-and-through, and I have felt so awful for the years of anger I had toward the fans who adored him. I still have my beef with the team, but all for the sake of smack talk now. The Cardinals fans I got to know over the last year have truly been great and they should all be happy to have a three-time World Series champion, and all around good guy like Musial to call their own.

I shuffled through a lot of quotes about Musial and his career and I only found one that I really think summed up his life and his career perfectly. In Musial's 3,026 major league appearances, he was never ejected from a game. Speaking about his quiet reputation within the sport's history, sportscaster Bob Costas said, "He didn't hit a homer in his last at-bat; he hit a single. He didn't hit in 56 straight games. He married his high school sweetheart and stayed married to her. ... All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being."


  1. Dave D. said...
    Just read the post and I understand better, but not to the point of loathing any team. Musial was my personal hero and seeing him was better than when I saw Ozzy. I'm glad we did get to see him one last time. I don't watch TV, so I didn't even know about fan-cave or anything. I do have my own Fan Cave museum of signed memorabilia and am including the Giants in it...LOL. I'm waiting on a hat to be sent back from Dusty Baker. I'm even representing the Cubs in my collection with a jersey signed by Don Kessinger (6x All Star for them). I've also just added 3 more game used hats from the Phillies and the Reds. Just don't hate any team until they play yours :) I was at the ring ceremony and Lou Brock and I were wearing the same coat. He kept looking at me. The first 25,000 fans got a replica ring which I replaced 12 of the CZ's with real rubies. It was a tad more than a drizzle and my sons and I were in the middle of it, keeping a sweet viewing point. I saw myself during every player introduction of the ceremony. Being my first game EVER, it was the coolest moment of my life. Them beating the Cubs was even sweeter. Anyway, let the healing begin, stay cool, hit the hookah and just enjoy the game.

    1. I just read this today, not sure how I missed it. Thank you very much for sharing it. Such a great series of events to end my night on. :)