Stanislaw Franciszek Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on November 21, 1920, the fifth of six children to Polish immigrants. After having his name formally changed to “Stanley Frank” when he enrolled in school, Musial began playing semi-professional ball at the age of 15 while still attending Donora High School. Stan spent his early years in the game mostly as a pitcher, although he occasionally played the outfield as well. He signed an amateur free-agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938, and was used exclusively as a pitcher his first two years in the minors, before splitting his time between the mound and the outfield in his third season. Any aspirations Musial had of eventually becoming a big-league pitcher came to an abrupt end during the latter stages of the 1940 campaign when he injured his left shoulder while making a diving catch in the outfield. After subsequently being convinced by his manager to pursue a career as an outfielder, Musial peppered International League pitching throughout much of the following year, before finally being called up by the Cardinals on September 17, 1941.
Musial provided a brief glimpse into his ability to hit a baseball over the final two weeks of the 1941 campaign, posting a .426 batting average in his 47 official at-bats and hitting his first home run in the major leagues. He became the Cardinals’ starting leftfielder the following year, batting .315 and scoring 87 runs in his first full season, to help St. Louis capture the world championship. The young outfielder developed into a star in 1943, leading the league in seven different offensive categories, including batting average (.357), hits (220), triples (20), and doubles (48), en route to leading the Cardinals to their second straight National League pennant. Although St. Louis subsequently lost the World Series to the Yankees in five games, Musial was named N.L. MVP.
Musial had another outstanding year in 1944, driving in 94 runs, finishing second in the league with 112 runs scored and a .347 batting average, and topping the circuit with 51 doubles, 197 hits, a .440 on-base percentage, and a .549 slugging percentage. The Cardinals captured their third pennant and second world championship in his first three seasons with the team, and Musial ended up finishing fourth in the league MVP voting.
Musial entered the United States Navy in January, 1945 and missed the entire 1945 campaign. However, he returned to the Cardinals the following year and picked up right where he had left off. Splitting his time between first base and left field, Musial established new career highs in virtually every offensive category. In addition to hitting16 home runs and driving in 103 runs, he led the league with 124 runs scored, 228 hits, 20 triples, 50 doubles, a .365 batting average, and a .587 slugging percentage. The Cardinals won the National League pennant again, then went on to defeat Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox in a classic seven-game World Series that was highlighted by Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” around the bases in the decisive seventh game. Musial was named league MVP for the second time at season’s end.
Musial spent the entire 1947 campaign at first base and had a solid year, hitting 19 home runs, driving in 95 runs, and scoring 113 others. But concurrent bouts with appendicitis and tonsilitis caused his batting average to fall more than 50 points, to .312. After having both his appendix and his tonsils removed during the offseason, Stan The Man returned to left field in 1948 to have the greatest season of his career. Musial had always been an outstanding line-drive hitter his first several seasons, accumulating huge sums of doubles and triples, while also collecting his fair share of home runs. However, the lefthanded-hitting Musial became more of a power hitter in 1948, using his unique batting stance, in which he faced the opposing pitcher with his front shoulder while crouching down low, to turn on the ball and pull it into the right field stands with greater frequency. Musial ended up leading the league in nine different offensive categories, falling just one home run short of capturing the triple crown. In addition to finishing second in the senior circuit with 39 homers, Stan The Man led the league with 131 runs batted in, 135 runs scored, 230 hits, 18 triples, 46 doubles, a .376 batting average, a .450 on-base percentage, a .702 slugging percentage, and 429 total bases. By striking out only 34 times, Musial accomplished the rare feat of compiling more home runs than strikeouts. He subsequently became the first National League player to be named league MVP three times.
A true student of hitting, Musial described one of the techniques he used to become the National League’s dominant hitter of his time: “I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider; then, I’d pick up the speed of the ball in the first 30 feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it had crossed the plate.”
Yet, Musial presented a far less scientific approach to hitting when he said, “You wait for a strike, then you knock the shit out of it.”
National League pitchers feared Musial more than any other hitter in the senior circuit.
Hall of Fame hurler Warren Spahn suggested, “Once Musial timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy.”
Dodger pitcher Preacher Roe discussed the technique he employed whenever he faced Musial: “I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base.”
In spite of the difficulties Musial presented to opposing pitchers whenever he stepped into the batter’s box, they had a difficult time developing a personal dislike for him. Friendly, affable, good-natured, considerate, and modest, Musial was loved by everyone in the game, especially his teammates, who he often entertained on road excursions by playing his harmonica. Musial had an endearing quality to his personality that few could resist, and he remained extremely humble through the years in spite of the excellence he displayed on the ballfield.
Ty Cobb wrote an article for Life magazine that came out just before the start of the 1952 campaign in which he essentially stated that the modern ballplayer couldn’t compare to the men who played the game during his time. However, he singled out Musial as an exception, proclaiming that he believed the St. Louis outfielder to be “…a better player than Joe DiMaggio was in his prime.” Displaying the humility for which he was so well noted, Musial responded to the article by saying, “Cobb is baseball’s greatest. I don’t want to contradict him, but I can’t say that I was ever as good as Joe DiMaggio.”
After winning the National League pennant in Musial’s first four full seasons, the Cardinals never again finished atop the league standings while Stan The Man was a member of the team. Nevertheless, Musial continued to excel for another decade as he went on to establish himself as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. He had another fabulous season in 1949, placing among the league leaders with 36 home runs, 123 runs batted in, 128 runs scored, and a .338 batting average, and topping the circuit in hits, triples, doubles, on-base percentage, and total bases. Musial then captured the next three league batting titles, posting averages of .346, .355, and .336 in 1950, 1951, and 1952, respectively.
Although Musial compiled batting averages of .337 and .330 in 1953 and 1954, he failed to win the batting championship either year. Yet, he made baseball history on May 2, 1954 when he became the first major league player to hit five home runs in a doubleheader. Musial ended the campaign with 35 homers, 126 runs batted in, and a league-leading 120 runs scored. In fact, although Musial was not generally thought of as being a pure home run hitter, he averaged 31 long balls per season from 1948 to 1957.
After being named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1957 for hitting 29 home runs, driving in 102 runs, and batting a league-leading .351 at age 36, Musial began to show a decline in offensive productivity the following year. Although Stan The Man batted .337 in 1958, he hit only 17 homers and knocked in just 62 runs. Musial’s batting average fell below .300 for the first time in his career the following year, and, when he failed to reach that mark in either of the next two seasons as well, speculation began that the Cardinal great’s playing days were nearing an end. Musial, though, put an end to such talk when he rebounded in 1962 to finish third in the league with a .330 batting average, while also hitting 19 home runs and driving in 82 runs. He played one more year before finally calling it quits at the conclusion of the 1963 campaign, at age 43.
Stan Musial ended his career with 475 home runs, 1,951 runs batted in, 1,949 runs scored, a lifetime batting average of .331, a .417 on-base percentage, 3,630 hits, 177 triples, and 725 doubles. At the time of his retirement, he either held or tied for 17 major league records, 29 National League records, and nine All-Star Game records. Included among Musial’s major league marks were most extra-base hits (1,377) and most total bases (6,134). He also led all National League players in hits, doubles, runs batted in, and games played. An amazingly consistent performer, Musial compiled 1,815 hits at home over the course of his career, while also accumulating 1,815 hits on the road.
In addition to winning seven batting titles, Musial led the National League in doubles eight times, hits, on-base percentage, slugging average and total bases six times each, runs scored and triples five times each, and runs batted in twice. He batted over .300 in each of his first 16 full seasons, topping the .340-mark on seven separate occasions. Musial also surpassed 30 homers and 200 hits six times each, 100 RBIs 10 times, 100 runs scored 11 times, 40 doubles nine times, and 10 triples on eight separate occasions. He struck out a total of only 696 times in almost 11,000 career at-bats. A solid outfielder as well, Musial compiled a total of 31 assists in 1943 and 1944, before splitting his time between left field and first base for much of the remainder of his career. In addition to being named N.L. MVP on three separate occasions, Musial finished second in the balloting four other times. He appeared in the All-Star Game in 20 of his 21 full seasons.
Longtime Dodger announcer Vin Scully once said, “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”
Immediately following Musial’s retirement, he was named director of the National Council on Physical Fitness by President Lyndon Johnson. He later briefly served as St. Louis’s general manager, a position he held during the Cardinals’ 1967 world championship season. Musial was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1969.
In discussing Musial’s legacy on ESPN’s SportsCentury, Bob Costas noted, “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 – never married a Marilyn Monroe. He didn’t play with the sheer joy and style that goes alongside Willie Mays’ name. None of those easy things are there to associate with Stan Musial. All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.”