A few days early, the groundhog emerges,
Temperatures heading toward the 50’s.
The local ball field looks inviting
Maybe it is time for opening day.
How is A-Rod recuperating?
The Yankees, he is told, are looking into new allegations,
Trying to bust his contract, be done with him.
Is that nice R.A. Dickey ready to win another 20?
The Mets let him go, and dissed him on his way out the door.
Never mind, the groundhog says. I’m going back down.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
A FEW PEOPLE HAVE INCLUDED PERSONAL MEMORIES OF MUSIAL. I'D LOVE TO SEE YOURS BELOW. GV.
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.
I love the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I love the concept, the site in beautiful Cooperstown, N.Y. and the people who run it. I am sorry they will have no new living members to induct this year, but that will take care of itself soon enough.
There is another baseball shrine -- and Buck O’Neill, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Marvin Miller are already members.
It is the Baseball Reliquary, based in Southern California, and also a state of mind that honors great characters of baseball. I don’t see the Reliquary as a threat or protest toward the Hall of Fame, but any shrine that includes female umpires and flash-in-the-pan players and pioneer mascots deserves its own separate place in this huge complicated world.
Here is a column I wrote in 2009 when Steve Dalkowski – whom I once saw strike out Roger Maris in a spring training game – was to be inducted into the Reliquary:
Maris is also in the Reliquary for hitting 61 homers in 1961, long before the steroid generation.
Curt Flood, Pam Postema, Roger Angell and Ted Giannoulas, the great Chicken, are among 42 members of the Reliquary.
Voting is open again, not confined to baseball writers but open to anybody who pays $25 dues.
I cannot vouch for the Reliquary or tell you if $25 is a good investment. However, for that membership, you can vote for candidates who, in their own individualistic ways, contributed to the sport, including Conrado Marrero, Lisa Fernandez, Ernie Harwell and Pete Reiser and 46 other candidates.
Their very names make me feel warm all over, like dreaming of pitchers and catchers and the first day of spring training.
Here is the Reliquary web site and the current candidates:
Nothing against the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just different.
Your comments are always welcome.
(FOR REACTION TO HALL VOTE, PLEASE SEE BELOW)
First of all, voters owe nothing to the baseball industry to create good will by voting in a few new members of the Hall of Fame to brighten up the dark of winter. This is baseball’s mess. Why vote for those guys right now?
Messrs. Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa and McGwire are a collective symptom of all that went wrong with baseball in the past generation. Management did not want to know why the players had new muscles on their muscles – even when a reporter like Steve Wilstein spotted the evidence sitting there in McGwire’s locker.
And the Players Association was fighting off drug rules and drug testing on the spurious grounds of individual rights. I’ve often wondered what became of Donald Fehr.
Tyler Kepner has a great point in the Monday New York Times: some good candidates may be held back by association with their place and time.
Tyler makes the point that the Times does not let its employees vote for any award, sports or show business. Since I still write for them occasionally, I don’t vote. The paper quite properly does not want its people to be part of the story for taking some eccentric vote.
However, if I did vote, I would be a strict constructionist. This year, five players with the best statistics are handcuffed together in a squad car of suspicion and evidence and admission.
As somebody who has told the very nice sons of Roger Maris and Gil Hodges that I do not quite think their fathers were Hall of Fame players, I could make the same judgment about Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly and Lee Smith. Too many really good players in the Hall right now.
And a lot of really good players eligible this year.
There is no tangible evidence against Mike Piazza. His career numbers seem worthy of the Hall. Wait a year.
Edgar Martinez may have been the best designated hitter in history. But designated hitter is still a gimmick in my opinion. It means he didn’t play defense most of the time. Wait a year.
Jeff Bagwell has the statistics but is generally suspected of bulking up. I don’t know. Wait a year.
Curt Schilling? Great post-season statistics. Wait a year.
Craig Biggio? He played three positions – very impressive – and has excellent longevity numbers – but was not necessarily the most feared hitter on his own team. Wait a year.
It’s really baseball’s fault we have this attitude about the past generation.
If you told me I had to vote for one player, I’d vote for Jack Morris, because he won big games for a long time, and is running out of eligibility.
There are historic considerations – “time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” to quote Andrew Marvell in a baseball column.
Pete Rose was a Hall of Fame player, absolutely, but he hurt himself by betting on baseball as a manager, and then he lied. Pete belongs in the Hall, somehow, sometime. He also loved the game, and gabbed about it incessantly with fans and reporters and other players, sitting in Sparky Anderson’s office. Bud Selig could declare that Pete broke the rules and lied – his plaque could say so -- but as a player, what a force Rose was, and versatile, too.
No doubt in my mind Bonds and Clemens were cheats as well as creeps. As time moves on, more voters could reason they were great players before they took the stuff. I can see voters including them in the Hall, but surely not now.
(MY SATURDAY COMMENTARY ABOUT THE VOTE:)
I had lunch Friday with a dozen friends who write about baseball – not beat writers, but people who follow the game just as closely. Some had wanted a Morris or Biggio to get into the Hall, but nobody seemed surprised by the shutout. It’s more than pique. It’s respect for the game.
Tyler Kepner (who was not at lunch) recently proposed a panel of 36 voters, including nine Hall of Fame players.
Tyler’s got a good point, but I’ll bet you the old players would have higher standards for inclusion than the writers, particularly if the vote were secret. They would be really tough on anybody suspected of using stuff. Even if the Hall panelists used “red juice” or “greenies” back in the day. You think not?
I don’t think there was one truly great – and clean -- player of the Ruth-Mays-Koufax level who was excluded on Wednesday. You know what we used to say back in Brooklyn? Wait til next year.
Your comments welcome below.
I’ve seen worse on New Year’s Day – death in the snow one year, hearing of death in the Caribbean two years later.
The fiscal-cliff frolics are a passing diversion. The schmendricks of Congress will eventually be shamed into pretending to be rational adults for a while.
It’s all made-for-television fare, like the musty pageant of Kathy Griffin trying to de-pants poor Anderson Cooper on CNN. Are they not ashamed? Well, Boehner and McConnell don’t seem ashamed. Why should a network?
But I’ve seen worse days.
New Year’s Day of 1971 started with my being marooned in a mountaintop motel in Harlan after a snowfall. I had rushed to the coal-mine explosion in Hyden on the night of Dec. 30th, and spent the next day unable to drive because of the snow.
Now in the early hours of a new year, I tried to learn how thirty-eight miners had met their doom in an explosion. I went to the first funeral the next day, a rush job for the shot man of that crew.
It took people a while to figure out he had been using outdoor explosives, with a live spark, underground. Mixed with rising methane gas, it blew the mine to kingdom come.
Happy new year.
Two years later, we had moved from Kentucky back home to Long Island. The temperature was close to 60 on New Year’s morning and I went running in my shorts. When I got home I discovered Roberto Clemente had died the night before when his plane dove into the sea off San Juan, while ferrying goods to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. That striking man with Harry Belafonte looks and the best right-field arm in baseball was gone.
The next day my photographer friend Luis Requeña told me how people were staging impromptu memorials in the barrio.
Clemente vive aún.
Forty years ago I was mourning a hero. Today, what do we have? Schmendricks in the House. Happy new year.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.