Oct. 2, 2010 is a day I will never forget.
That’s the day I saw Stan Musial.
I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the Cardinals game that day, which also happened to be the “Stand for Stan” rally at Busch Stadium. Everyone in the ballpark received a cardboard cutout of Musial’s likeness as part of a campaign to have Stan awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he later received.
Spending my entire childhood in St. Louis, I knew full well what Musial meant to this city. At least I thought I did.
It was the middle of the sixth inning. The wall in the right field corner opened up. The ballpark erupted in a way I had never heard before.
Stan “The Man” Musial was here.
He passed by my section on his ceremonial ride around the field. He waved to the crowd with one hand, the other firmly grasped the hand of his wife of 72 years, Lil. It was incredibly touching.
Just about everyone in St. Louis has their own Stan Musial story, and this is mine. When I heard the news last Saturday night that Musial had passed away at the age of 92, my mind went back to that day and I reflected on just how special it was.
What I experienced that day at the ballpark is something I can’t fully describe. The outpouring of love from the fans to Musial — and from Musial back to us — was simply magical.
If you know me or have read my column before, you know I’m not one for hyperbole. Frankly, when it comes to Stan Musial and St. Louis, there is no room for hyperbole.
I could spend hours talking about Musial’s remarkable accomplishments and statistics on the field. He was a model of consistency and sustained excellence for more than two decades as a St. Louis Cardinal.
As a baseball player, Musial is one of the top five or 10 players to ever step foot on the diamond.
But as a man, no one could compete with him. As great of a ballplayer as he was, that pales in comparison to his greatness as a human being. Through his actions, he taught us all how to be better people. It is all too fitting that Musial’s nickname was “The Man.” That’s simply who he was.
This is a man who just wanted to make people smile. He was classy, warm, kind and generous. He was a simple man who lived an incredibly full life.
Musial spent 22 years playing the game he loved, and playing it better than just about anyone. He left his baseball career to serve in the military during World War II. He returned to baseball in 1946 and promptly won the MVP while leading the Cardinals to a World Series title.
He was instrumental in helping to break down the color barrier in baseball. Not because he wanted to be a civil rights advocate, but because he felt everyone should be treated with decency and respect. This attitude helped make him successful wherever he went in business and in life.
He married his wife when they both were 19, and they raised a family together. But Stan also had his other family, the city of St. Louis, and he treated each member as if they were his own.
The love affair between Stan Musial and the city of St. Louis is not something that can be put into words; it had to be felt. Anyone who came in contact with “The Man” understands this.
To quote the classic baseball movie “The Sandlot,” “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”
Stan “The Man” Musial will live on in St. Louis forever.