Veronica Duda with Photo of Her Husband Michael
The same night Stan Musial died in St. Louis, an old friend died near Donora.Veronica Duda, 98,
was the strong and talented widow of Dr. Michael Duda, Musial’s mentor at Donora High, now long amalgamated into a district school.
The Dudas, young and childless at the time, took to the shy athletic kid from one of the poorest families in the mill town. Musial had the slightest bit of a stutter from being made to write right-handed, as was the fashion back then. Musial was not a scholar, but he could play basketball and baseball. Michael Duda, known as Ki (he used to portray the Kaiser of Germany in childhood games), started a high-school team, partially to give the boy a chance to play spring baseball.
Verne Duda was a trained violinist who had cut back on her performing to follow her academic husband a few miles from Latrobe to Donora. Teachers were treated with great respect in this community of newly-arrived ethnics. As hard as Donora was, people looked after each other.
Musial had an instinct for finding role models – a man with an auto dealership who taught Musial how to carry himself; the basketball coach who taught them citizenship; a mill worker who ran the town baseball team and one day let the skinny batboy pitch.
On Halloween evening in 1948, when Musial was already a star in St. Louis, Verne Duda was a queen of the parade, right down the busy main street of Donora. She noticed the normal bad air was getting worse but continued to toss apples and candy to the crowd – until news came that people were falling, and dying. It was the start of the Donora Smog
that killed 18 people right away, not counting Lukasz Musial, who was taken to St. Louis, where he died in late December.
Michael Duda became the president of the state college branch at nearby California, Pa. He was beloved, and died way too young. Verne remained friendly with Musial’s mother Mary -- went with her to Hollywood when Stan was honored on “This Is Your Life.”
I caught up with Mrs. Duda a few years ago in a retirement apartment on campus. She was in a wheelchair and her eyesight was going, and she had misplaced some documents about her husband and their prize protégé. She did not lack for opinions, but her main one was pride in the boy from town who made his way in the world.
Photo Courtesy of Charles Schmitz
Photo by Doug Mills
THURSDAY Here are two stories about Musial, over the transom, from readers in Connecticut and Missouri. Your own comments are welcome, below:
A little story about “Stan the Man”
This is probably one of a thousand stories about the special person that Stan Musial was.
Stan Musial’s daughter and her family lived on a beautiful street in Kirkwood next door to a friend and classmate of my daughter, Annie. I had recently spoken to her friend’s mother who told me that Stan was always over at his daughter’s house doing chores and odds and ends and how he was just the nicest person to everyone in the neighborhood.
One evening, my brother Bill, who lived in Dallas, called to tell me that he was coming to St. Louis to attend the 40th birthday party of his very good friend and roommate at Mizzou. His friend’s first name was Stan and was actually named after “Stan the Man.”
My brother commented that it would really be special if he could get something written from “Stan the Man” to Stan (his friend) as a birthday present. I remembered what the neighbor said and called the neighbor to see if it were possible to do this the next time Stan was at his daughter’s house.
I had an 8 x 10 glossy of Stan Musial at home and I brought it over to the neighbor. She said she would ask him the next time she sees him and that, as a matter of fact, Stan has been sealing his daughter’s driveway the past few days.
The neighbor called me the following Saturday to tell me that she saw Stan sealing the driveway and went out to ask him the favor of signing the picture.
She went on to tell me that upon this request, Stan said “Wait right here. I’ll be back in half an hour.” A little later, Stan came back and brought with him a number of articles all signed by Stan and with well wishes for the other Stan on his birthday. He obviously had dropped everything, drove home, and returned with the items which made one man’s birthday very very special.
And guess what? Stan didn’t ask for one dime. He was just honored to be asked. He did not personally know any of us but it didn’t matter.
When I think of Stan Musial, certainly I think of all the hits I witnessed as a kid and young adult, I am almost 70 now, but most of all I remember this story because this little act of kindness defines who he was. “The Man.”
The passing of Stan Musial is a sad event for all who knew of him! Litchfield, Connecticut, my life long home, may be far away from St. Louis and populated by Red Sox, Mets and Yankees fans, but any baseball fanatic who followed Mr. Musial's career, even to a minute degree, had to love his kind and wondrous personality.
Indeed, I will never, ever forget the glorious human being who was Stan The Man Musial. And, thank The Lord I bumped into him in person twice by amazing chance.
One of those days, my son, Tommie, a Red Sox fan, and I, a Giants fan, were standing outside the door of the room where the Hall of Famers go for their party in Cooperstown, New York. Of course, we were gazing closely to catch glimpses of our Red Sox and Giants all time heroes. As we were doing so, a fan, standing right behind us, who did not need a microphone, began announcing the names and nicknames of each player moving toward us.
"Pee Wee Reese!" he exclaimed as Pee Wee moved right up to us and gave all of us a high wave. "Willie Stretch McCovey!" the microphone blurted out. Willie simply moved by with speed, as if he were rushing out of the dugout to his first base post at a Polo Grounds home game. I saw quite a few of those games with my dad, Thomas D. Williams, a Giants fan as well, particularly after Willie Mays became my favorite rookie center fielder ever.
Our announcer continued his stupendous identifications of a couple of other famers before his apparent favorite arrived.
"Stan Musial!" he exclaimed with extraordinary enthusiasm. Stan, donning a huge smile, began walking toward us from the car that took him there. As Stan, got closer, our announcer yelled out: "Give us the stance, Stan!" So Stan stopped in mid-walk, and indeed gave us that notorious batting stance: his two arms high above and well in back of his head and his legs slightly crouched and apart. Without further prompting, Stan swung his arms forward as if his bat was about to strike a fast ball. He finished the swing, moved forward toward Tommie and I, resumed his stance and swung again. By the time Stan repeated this for his third swing, he was just feet away from us. He resumed his stance and exclaimed: "Once again?!" But, he stopped there for seconds, dropped the imaginary bat, broke out with an amazing smile and continued walking into the Hall of Fame party.
Upon another occasion, years apart, I was anticipating more lively action from Hall of Famers close to the same hallers' arty location. First I remember Yogi Berra and several other famers trudge by without episode or comment except for yells from the crowd: "Hey Yogi, Yogi,Yogi!" No answer and on into the Hall he walked. I was a bit disappointed until I saw this guy I could not yet recognize get out of a car and began his energetic walk. As he did so, he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a harmonica. He soon put it to his lips as he continued his path and began playing "Take Me Out ToThe Ball Game!" As he was finishing, the crowd yelled: "Give it to us again Stan!" It was Stan The Man and once again, he belted another one out of the park: this one, however, was the greatest of baseball songs!
Dennie Williams, a Lifetime Giants Fan
Litchfield, Ct. WEDNESDAY
Fans have sent in their memories of Musial to John Hall, collector of midwest baseball history. Many are touching, and give a great sense of the hold Musial has on the region. http://komleaguebaseball.blogspot.com/
For fans further east, I hear there will be a service in his home town of Donora, Pa., in mid-February. I will keep you posted. GV MONDAY
Willie Mays on Stan Musial:
Mays was at the Baseball Writers’ dinner in New York Saturday night when word got around that Stan Musial had passed.
Willie Weinbaum of ESPN sent this report to Buster Olney
: "It is a very sad day for me," Willie Mays said in a brief interview after being informed of his perennial National League All-Star Game teammate's passing. Mays, on hand to celebrate the 2012 Giants' world championship honorees and the chapter's "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" award to his 1973 Mets, called Musial "a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could."I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever."
This dovetails with Bernie Miklasz’ anecdote about Musial. Some people from a younger generation see Musial as less than a hero because he didn’t go on freedom rides.
How you live your daily life is important, too.
Here's a link to a terrific column by Bernie Miklasz in the Post-Dispatch. My thanks to Lynn McGuire, widow of the great John McGuire, for sending me this link. http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/a-perfect-union-stan-the-man-and-st-louis/article_1f42f8b6-a9da-530f-9492-2a767479bd19.html#.UPyI1uRTG2M.email
A FEW PEOPLE HAVE INCLUDED PERSONAL MEMORIES OF MUSIAL. I'D LOVE TO SEE YOURS BELOW. GV. SATURDAY NIGHT
We now prepare for the tributes, in the town that loved him.
Church and state in St. Louis will honor Stan Musial in the days and weeks to come, and the baseball-playing part of the world can update its memory of Stan the Man -- .331 batting average,
475 home runs, speed and consistency, voted the best baseball player of the post-war decade by Life Magazine.
He was more than that – he was the approachable face of baseball, a humble man who came to St. Louis and stayed, until he passed Saturday at the age of 92. The family has lost Lil and Stan in a short time.
I was lucky enough to get a feel for Musial in St. Louis while writing his unauthorized biography, Stan Musial: An American Life
, which was a best-seller in 2011.
He was past speaking for himself but I was honored that some of his best friends, teammates, opponents and family spoke about him, portrayed him as very human.
I was privileged to be at the White House in 2011 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He seemed subdued most of the time but lit up when President Obama put the medal around his neck.
His friends said he wore the medal when he made the rounds of his lunch places back home in the days afterward. .
I’ll be writing about him for the Times in the Monday edition.
For the moment, my condolences go to his family and that huge swath of the country that loved him, as its own.
Poster Courtesy of John Hall
Musial and "My Buddy." Photo: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Ken Griffey was between seasons on Nov. 21, 1969. He had just hit .281 for the Reds’ Gulf League team – his first year in pro ball -- and was waiting to play in Sioux Falls in 1970. He did what made economic sense for a young man and his pregnant wife – they went home, which in this case was Donora, Pa.
Three generations have come through that hard town of zinc plants on the Monongahela River. Ken’s father, Buddy, was a great three-sport athlete at Donora High, whose teammate in basketball and baseball was a skinny kid named Stan Musial
Years later, Musial would softly let it be known he had no problem playing with or against African-Americans because he had grown up with them as teammates. Ken Griffey
was also a three-sport athlete. Baseball was his weakest sport
, but he signed with the Reds, and they taught him to hit. His first-born, Ken, Jr
., happened to arrive on Stan Musial’s 49th birthday.
They love that bond, the old Cardinal and the retired Mariner. Somewhere I have a gorgeous color photo of Musial in a gaudy sport shirt and Junior in a Mariner uniform, both smiling. It was taken by Dick Collins, who photographed generations of Hall of Fame celebrations. If I ever get the photo scanned, I’ll put it up here. Meantime, Junior and Musial are linked forever, albeit with a melancholy date.
Stan the Man referred to John F. Kennedy as “my buddy.” They met one day in September of 1959 in Milwaukee when the campaigning senator from Massachusetts spotted the Cardinal bus, and sought out Musial, asking if he would campaign for him.
In October of 1960, Musial went on the road for a week in what are now called Red States. He had a rollicking good time travelling with James A. Michener, Byron (Whizzer) White, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Jeff Chandler, Ethel Kennedy and Joan Kennedy. In the 2011 biography, Stan Musial: An American Life, another of the campaigners, Angie Dickinson, raves about the athlete who made everybody laugh.
Musial always said he lost all nine states for the President, but it was more like 2-7.
Musial and JFK met again at the White House before the 1962 All-Star Game. The President noted that people thought he was too young and Musial too old to ply their respective trades. They laughed about that, two guys who knew they had it pretty good.
On Nov. 22, 1963, a lot of people did not feel like putting one foot after another, but Musial showed up at his restaurant and asked customers if everything was all right with their dinners. One customer who was there that night said he thought Musial showed up because people needed to see his familiar face. Truth or imagination, it was a nice thought.
All of us of a certain age remember where we were that day.
* * *.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a nice Thanksgiving feature on Stan the Man:: http://www.stltoday.com/gallery/sports/baseball/professional/reasons-why-stan-is-the-man/collection_052e6c5c-2516-56b5-b71d-4ae37a07c6e1.html#0
THIS JUST IN: DAVID VECSEY WROTE A SWEET MEMORY OF THE SUMMER WHEN HE AND JUNIOR WERE BOTH BEING PRODUCTIVE IN SEATTLE. http://idaveblog.weebly.com/1/post/2012/11/happy-birthday-ken-griffey-jr.html
Two Left-Handers. Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2011. Photo by the great Doug Mills.
I’ll be talking about my book, Stan Musial: An American Life, on Saturday, Nov. 10, in Harrisburg, Pa.
The talk will also be streaming live at 3 pm at:http://pcntv.com/
The talk is part of the Harrisburg Book Festival
, Friday through Sunday, at the terrific Midtown Scholar Bookstore-Café, 1302 N. Third Street in Harrisburg. Tel: 717-236-1680.
My appearance has been arranged through my daughter Corinna Vecsey Wilson, vice president of programming and host
The book was a New York Times best-seller in 2011. For a couple of glimpses of Musial, please see: http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/11191/1159123-148-0.stmhttp://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/06/the-story-of-stan-the-man/
Musial will turn 92 on Nov. 21, and is the icon of St. Louis. I will be linking his modest, hard-working persona to his Pennsylvania roots in Donora in the western part of the state.
Stan the Man was one of the great baseball players of his time, or any time. At first I thought the subtitle should be The Forgotten Man (reference to the song in High Society) but when I began researching his roots as an immigrant's son in zinc-and-steel-and-smog country, I realized the subtitle An American Life was much better. It is always an honor to talk about one of the sporting heroes of my childhood.
Yogi Berra and Stan Musial go way back. They could even have been teammates except that the Cardinals offered more bonus money to Joe Garagiola than to Yogi, which is how history was made, or altered.
Yogi met Carmen at Stan & Biggie’s restaurant – he was wearing golf spikes.
On Tuesday at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Montclair, N.J., I will be talking about my biography, Stan Musial: An American Life -- about this great and perhaps under-rated Hall of Famer. http://www.georgevecsey.com/books-by-george-vecsey.html
This is a paid luncheon event at noon, with a copy of the book included in the admission. For information please check the museum web site or call: 973-655-2378. http://www.yogiberramuseum.org/events.php
Stan and Yogi were both seen as good-luck charms by their teammates. I’ll get into that, too.
Hope to see you there.
When I was writing about Levon Helm
of The Band before his death on Thursday, I referred to the commonality of American and Canadian culture, pertaining to pop music.
I was not saying it all sounds alike, but that modern technology and communications have exposed all of us to various strains of music that we know and love.
The Band produced a new blend of rock, folk and country from all over the continent. Levon, bless his heart, brought Arkansas north of the 38th Parallel.
When the soul singer pictured above delivered the first note of Let’s Stay Together – the first high note! -- everybody knew he was doing Al Green. Of course, it was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and “The Rev” was in the audience, and President Obama quickly made a Sandman joke (Sandman Sims, a noted tap-dancer, used to give performers the hook
when the Apollo audience had enough.)
Not everybody watching the President got the Sandman reference, but who didn’t recognize Let’s Stay Together? It’s in the culture.
I’m an official Old Guy, and my iPod has Brazilian music
, Latino Music, the Chieftains, Anna and Kate McGarrigle with Quebec accordions, Joe Williams at Newport, Lucinda Williams, Thomas Hampson singing Stephen Foster. Not one culture, but so many cultures, all out there in our ozone. When the American President can do Al Green, we are getting somewhere.
Response to Thoughtful Reader Brian – II
The other day I mentioned a double Yankee connection
to Stan Musial
. This was before I gave a talk about my Musial biography
, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a lovely building on the Grand Concourse.
Brian asked: just what were those connections? Well, in 1938, when Musial was already signed by Branch Rickey’s vast Cardinal farm system, he told a scout from his home-region Pittsburgh Pirates that the Yankee empire was showing an interest in him.
Apparently an un-named Yankee “bird dog” had spoken to him, according to a Musial friend who was trying to get the Pirates interested in the local boy. But the Pirates couldn’t touch Musial because he was under contract, and the Cardinals quickly sent him to his first minor-league post in West Virginia, as a wild lefty pitcher.
The other Yankee connection? When Musial slumped in 1959 and manager Solly Hemus saw fit to bench him, the Sporting News ran a copyright story that the Cardinals might trade Musial to the Yankees for St. Louis home-boy Yogi Berra. Musial said it was ridiculous, nothing to it. He had already blown away a proposed trade for Robin Roberts a few years earlier.
The question is: how would Musial have done as a Yankee, either at the start of his career or at the end? Perhaps he would have gotten lost as a wild young lefty pitcher, and never gotten a chance to show his hitting ability. He only got to play the outfield regularly in the Cardinal chain after blowing out his pitching shoulder while making a diving catch in center field.
Years later, the Yankees found a position for a shortstop named Mantle, and they found ways for Berra and Howard to co-exist. My guess is the Yankees – or any club – would have discovered the kid could hit and they could have used him in left field or at first base, just as the Cardinals did.
In 1960, the Pirates turned down a chance to get Musial for their pennant drive. Could his bat have helped either the Yankees or the Pirates in that wild World Series?
Oh, yes, Musial visited Yankee Stadium in his first two World Series in 1942 and 1943 and he hit his last all-star homer in 1960 in Yankee Stadium.
Those are his Bronx connections. With impeccable good sense, Musial managed to spend the last 70 years in a grand baseball city that loves and appreciates him. He did fine.
Much Better That He Played Here/Photo by George Vecsey
Twice in his long and splendid career, Stan Musial was rumored to be going to the Yankees.
Once was before he was nicknamed Stan the Man in another borough; the other happened when he was Stan the Elder.
Of course, Musial became and remained the great sporting figure of St. Louis, a perfect blend of athlete and a grand old baseball town.
On Tuesday, April 17, in the Bronx, I will be discussing the Yankee parallels in my biography, Stan Musial: An American Life, published in 2011 by Ballantine/ESPN.
The talk will be at 3 PM in the Bronx Museum of the Arts
, 165th St. and the Grand Concourse, part of a Yankee-centric spring baseball lecture series
organized by Cary Goodman, the executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District
It is a formidable lineup that began Sunday with Arlene Howard discussing her memoir of her husband Elston. Today (Monday) is Kostya Kennedy and his book about 1941. And on Wednesday Howard Bryant and Howie Evans will be talking about Henry Aaron. The full lineup is here: http://www.newyorkology.com/archives/2012/04/bronx_museum_ba.php
I will give my theories why it was good for all concerned that Musial did not become a Yankee. Although, can you imagine him hitting to all corners of the old Yankee Stadium?
“If you’re in the neighborhood,” as the broadcasters say in the early innings, please come by and say hello on Tuesday.
Instead of posting the usual cluster of postcards from this past year, I am retaining one outstanding memory – the grace of two presidents, in the home where they have lived, and a handshake that remains with me to this day.
I got to visit the White House on Feb. 15, after a friend scored a special invitation (not a press credential) for the ceremony for 15 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
, including Stan Musial. My biography of Musial
was almost done, and he was being flown in from St. Louis to receive his medal, at the age of 90
On a cold, gorgeous sunny day, I met up with John Zentay, a Washington lawyer who in 1962 had escorted Musial
to the White House to meet President John F. Kennedy. I told the story
the next day in The New York Times, how Zentay was carrying a photo of young Stan the Man and young J.F.K., and how we spotted Musial being escorted in a wheelchair by his grandson to the security gate. While the old star waited for clearance, Zentay showed him the photo. Then another invited guest — a handsome woman with what could best be described as vigah — strode up and spotted the photograph.
“That’s my brother,” she said. It was Jean Kennedy Smith
, the last Kennedy sibling, who was also to receive a medal that day. Musial, who is slowing down, did not respond, but Zentay and I were thrilled by her reaction.
What I did not mention in my column the next day was meeting Yo-Yo Ma
, another medal recipient, at the gatehouse. Open and bubbly, he chatted with all of us as we waited. I thanked him for the Silk Road Project CD
I have at home; I could have thanked him for dozens of other performances. What a nice guy.
The ceremony was also described in the Times — great sports figures like Jim Brown and Joe Morgan honoring their friend Bill Russell, and Musial’s family looking on proudly as he received his medal from President Obama.
After that came a reception — refreshments, mingling, casual introductions. I sought out President George H.W. Bush, who was also in a wheelchair that day, but had willed himself into standing when presented with the Presidential medal.
Because we were in the White House — smaller, more intimate, than you might think — I could not help remembering how my childhood friend Angus Phillips, the long-time outdoor columnist with The Washington Post, was once invited for a predawn fishing expedition
with President Bush. Through a lapse in protocol, Angus found the president padding around his living quarters in a bath robe. Angus was mortified but President Bush was cool.
In 2011, President Bush was back, casually hanging around his old residence with the medal around his neck. I asked him about the whereabouts of his old George McQuinn first baseman glove that he wore for Yale
in the College World Series of 1947 and 1948. He once displayed the mitt to a gaggle of sportswriters when we visited the White House to schmooze about baseball. This time the 41st president turned to his wife and said, “Hey, Bar,” and asked about the glove. Like any older married couple — I can relate — they could not remember where the glove was stored in Houston. Once again, I was reminded what a decent and approachable man he is.
This is the part I did not tell in my column. Not enough space. Too personal:
As the guests mingled, I heard a flurry of applause from a front foyer, where a military chamber group had been playing. I heard the hum of a cello, followed by applause and laughter, and I followed the sound. It turned out that Yo-Yo Ma had asked the military cellist if he could sit in for one movement of Dvorak, and when he finished, President Obama, still mingling with his guests, had given him a warm hug. Clearly, they are kindred souls as well as a couple of Harvard guys
The president was tall and graceful and very much at ease as he started moving toward the hallway.
My friend, who had arranged my guest pass, introduced himself and asked the president about something they had in common. Politely, President Obama stopped, gave my friend his attention, and answered the question. Then he said: “I’m sorry, guys, but I’ve got to go. I’ve got some work to do.”
As any guests would do, the people nearest to him cleared a path, and in a chorus said, “Go! Go!” the way any guests would do for a host who needed to take care of business.
As the president strode toward a stairway, he could have picked up speed, looked straight ahead, but this was his borrowed home, and he was the host. As he walked, he made eye contact. I was pressed against a wall, just another guest in a dark suit, not about to interrupt him, but the president stuck out his hand and greeted three or four of us, who were clearing space for him. I felt his hand for a second, and then he was gone, up the stairway, out of sight.
As a long-time journalist, I have met a lot of people, and I force myself on people only when on duty. However, the glow of the offered handshake has stayed with me as I recall the short chat with President Bush, and the instinctive inclusion from President Obama. Nearly a year later, I still relish the brief exposure to their grace.