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::
THIS JUST IN: DAVID VECSEY WROTE A SWEET MEMORY OF THE SUMMER WHEN HE AND JUNIOR WERE BOTH BEING PRODUCTIVE IN SEATTLE.
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023