“We didn’t have much except kindness,” Mr. Musial wrote of his boyhood in his 1964 autobiography. “But there never was a time I didn’t have a baseball.”
Growing up, Mr. Musial excelled at basketball (the University of Pittsburgh offered him a scholarship), but his first love was baseball. “I wanted to be a big league ball player from the time I was eight years old,” he later recalled. Among his teammates on the Donora High School baseball team was Buddy Griffey, the future grandfather of baseball’s Ken Griffey Jr.
Mr. Musial was signed by the Cardinals’ organization as a pitcher in 1937. Because of his hitting prowess, he would play in the outfield on days he didn’t pitch. The budding southpaw fell on his pitching arm while attempting to make a catch in the outfield during the 1940 season and had to give up his mound career.
He began the 1941 season as an outfielder playing for the Cardinals’ Class C minor league team. By September, he was playing for the Cards — and batting .426.
“I was kind of intrigued with the fella,” said the legendary St. Louis general manager Branch Rickey, who had brought up Mr. Musial from the minors. “He had those kaleidoscopic at-bats, and startlingly so.”
Mr. Musial proved he was no fluke by helping lead the Cardinals to the World Series in 1942, ‘43, and ‘44. He spent the ‘45 season in the Navy.
In 1946, Mr. Musial returned to the diamond — and the Cardinals returned to the World Series, this time against the Red Sox. The Cards prevailed, as neither Mr. Musial nor Williams distinguished himself. Mr. Musial batted a lowly .222. and Williams (who had an injured elbow) batted just .200.
That was the last appearance the Cardinals would make in the World Series during Mr. Musial’s career, another reason for the relative lack of publicity he received. He did not go unrewarded, however. In 1958, he became the first National Leaguer to earn a $100,000 salary.
Next season, he hit only .255, and there was talk of retirement. “They tell me you’re too old to play ball and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we’ll fool them,” US Sen. John F. Kennedy said to Mr. Musial at a 1960 campaign appearance. The following January Kennedy was in the White House, and in 1962 Mr. Musial batted .330.
Mr. Musial retired at the end of the ‘63 season. He recorded his two final hits playing against the Cincinnati Reds. Presaging things to come, Reds second baseman Pete Rose got three hits that day. Rose would go on to surpass Mr. Musial’s total for most hits by a National Leaguer, as well as Cobb’s major-league-leading total.
In 1964, President Johnson named Mr. Musial chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. He became a Cardinals senior vice president and spent the 1967 season as the team’s general manager. That year, the Cards defeated the Red Sox four games to three in the World Series. Mr. Musial gave up his general manager duties to concentrate on his business interests, which included a St. Louis restaurant and hotel.
An 8-foot-high bronze sculpture of Mr. Musial at bat was unveiled outside St. Louis’ Busch Stadium in 1968. Mr. Musial disliked the statue because it inaccurately portrayed his batting stance. “I never held [the] bat at the end,” he explained in a 1985 Los Angeles Times interview. “I always held it maybe a quarter-inch or a half-inch from the end.”
In 1969, Mr. Musial was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2011.