A few years ago I found myself writing that Stan Musial embodied the six-degrees-of-separation history of baseball – signed by the Cardinals of Branch Rickey, a man of the Nineteenth Century, and a teammate of Bob Gibson and Curt Flood and Bill White, stars of the Sixties.
Musial, who died on Jan. 20 of this year, is still current in many ways.
On Wednesday, a painting of Stan the Man was to be unveiled at the Missouri Athletic Club in downtown St. Louis, a few hours before his Cardinals were to open the World Series in Boston.
Boston is part of the karma. Musial played his last World Series against the Red Sox in 1946 – what I consider one of the great Series in history for the postwar presence of so many veterans, including Musial and Ted Williams – and in Musial’s only year as general manager, the Cardinals won the 1967 World Series over the Red Sox.
The Man runs right through the center of baseball. And get this, Tim McCarver, the eager puppy of a catcher who was housebroken by Musial and Gibson and others in the early 60s, is calling his last games for Fox this month.
McCarver adores Stan the Man. In the biography I wrote in 2011, Stan Musial: an American Life, McCarver told of the so-called lucky streak of Musial’s life – the embarrassed giggle, the winning hands at poker, the .331 batting average. Never underestimate Stan the Man, McCarver said.
This painting that will be displayed permanently at the M.A.C. is the first sports portrait among other distinguished Missourians. But Musial is wearing a suit, not the gaudy Cardinal uniform. His wife Lilllian commissioned the great portrait artist Robert Templeton to come to their home in 1960 and paint her husband, still playing ball, but already preparing for his continuing career in the restaurant business. Lil, who died in May of 2012, wanted to depict her husband as a man of dignity. The portrait hung in their home until they both passed, and now it will be seen downtown.
Another Musial sighting: his baseball collection -- the uniforms and scorecards and other mementos – are up for sale via the Heritage Auction site Nov. 9-11. Needless to say, the surge to the World Series by the Cardinals – with the No. 6 memorial patches on their uniforms -- cannot help but bring Musial closer to the public eye this month.
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One more thing about this World Series: these two teams are not there by accident. Both of them have enlightened ownerships that have dominated this past decade. The Red Sox of John Henry and associates retooled and returned to the Series this year. The Cardinals, operated conservatively by the DeWitt family, keep winning with sound new waves of players. The smartest thing the Cardinals did was not to match the Angels’ offer for Albert Pujols. As Branch Rickey used to say: Better a year too soon than a year too late. In these high-stakes times, that theory is more important than ever. These two teams deserve to be where they are. Red Sox-Cardinals. The last World Series for The Kid and the Man, but in that grand baseball way, seeming like just yesterday.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.