Stan Musial, “Stan the Man,’’ who was the National League’s preeminent player in the decade after World War II and whose 22 seasons playing the outfield and first base for the St. Louis Cardinals earned him a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame, died at his home in Ladue, Mo., at the age of 92, according to the Cardinals.
“We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family,’’ said William DeWitt Jr., chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals in a statement posted on the team’s website. “Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history and one of the best players in the history of baseball.’’
In a 1952 article, the legendary Hall of Fame outfielder Ty Cobb wrote, “No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today.’’
For all that Mr. Musial may have approached perfection, he never had a mystique, the way his slightly older counterparts Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams did, or the somewhat younger Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Mr. Musial played far from the New York media spotlight. He had no hallowed statistic attached to his name, like DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Williams’ .406 batting average in 1941.
Mr. Musial, the sportswriter Jimmy Cannon said, “plays ball with a methodical gaiety and does not surrender to the moods which govern the other great ball players.’’ Among those alien moods was anxiety. An enthusiastic harmonica player, Mr. Musial performed the national anthem at opening day in St. Louis in 1994 with the conductor of the St. Louis Symphony’s pops concerts. Mr. Musial confided to him it was the first time he had ever felt “nervous on the field.’’
The most distinctive thing about Mr. Musial was his batting stance, a coiled crouch once compared to “a man peeking around the corner.’’ What made Mr. Musial extraordinary was what he did, not who he was. There was nothing flamboyant or colorful about him, either on the field or off. It was no small irony that “Stan the Man’’ inspired one of the most memorable baseball nicknames of the 1970s when a teammate dubbed the notably eccentric relief pitcher Don Stanhouse “Stan the Man Unusual.’’
The only thing unusual about Mr. Musial was his achievements. In the words of a friend, the novelist James Michener, “He is an almost epic case … that what you see is what you get.’’
What baseball fans got with Mr. Musial was one of the all-time great hitters, a model of steadiness and consistency. How consistent was he? Of his 3,630 hits, 1,815 came at home and 1,815 on the road.
“Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior,’’ baseball’s commissioner, Ford Frick, declared of Mr. Musial in 1963. “Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.’’
When Mr. Musial retired from play, in 1963, he held or shared 17 major league, 29 National League, and nine All-Star records. Major league records included most extra-base hits and total bases. He held National League records for games played, hits, doubles, at-bats, runs scored, runs batted in, and total bases. The left-handed-hitting Mr. Musial was the eighth man in major league history to reach 3,000 hits and required fewer seasons to do so (16) than any player before or since.
Asked once how best to handle Mr. Musial, Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine said, “I just throw him my best stuff, then run over to back up third base.’’
Mr. Musial, who hit 475 home runs and had a lifetime batting average of .331, won seven batting titles and led the league in hits six times, doubles eight times, triples five times, and runs five times. The first player in major league history to hit 400 home runs and reach 3,000 hits, he was picked to the All-Star team 20 times. He was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player and four-time runner-up.
“Once Musial timed your fastball,’’ said Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, “your infielders were in jeopardy.’’
Mr. Musial saw nothing complicated in succeeding at the plate. “The secret of hitting?’’ he once said. “Relax, concentrate — and don’t hit a fly ball to center field.’’
He told a fellow Hall of Famer, Ralph Kiner, “If you want to hit ground balls, hit the top third of the ball. If you want to hit line drives, hit the center. If you want home runs, hit the bottom third of the ball. It’s simple.’’
Stanislaus Frank Musial was born on Nov. 21, 1920, the son of Lukasz Musial, an immigrant Polish steelworker, and Mary (Lancos) Musial, a housewife, in Donora, Penn., an industrial town 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. His name was anglicized to Stanley when he started school.
“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.