ST. LOUIS – He rode down on a bus from Donora, Pennsylvania as a youngster fresh out of high school in 1938. Stan Musial was signed as a lefthanded pitcher and sent to Williamson, W.Va. to play in the old Coalfield League.
Musial, who was one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, died Saturday. He was 92 years old.
He played his first two seasons for the Williamson minor league team, which was an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Early on fans saw that Musial could hit and, in some of his early games, he also played right field.
Eventually he was sent to a minor league team in Florida where he became a full-time outfielder and later played some at first base for the Cardinals.
After moving quickly up the ladder in the St. Louis organization, Musial made his major league debut in 1941, just two seasons after playing in Williamson.
He ended up having a Hall of Fame career, winning seven batting titles. He was a humble man, known as a true gentleman.
He earned the nickname Stan “the Man” and became one of the best hitters in the history of baseball.
The Cardinals announced Musial’s death in a news release and said he died at his home in Ladue, a St. Louis suburb, surrounded by family. The team said Musial’s son-in-law, Dave Edmonds, informed the club of the slugger’s death.
Two statues in his honor stand outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis. One just wouldn’t do him justice. He was every bit the equal to MLB greats like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio even without the bright lights of the big city.
Musial was a three-time MVP and helped the Cardinals capture three World Series championships in the 1940s.
He spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals and made the All-Star team 24 times, because baseball held two All-Star games each summer for a few seasons. He had been the longest-tenured living Hall of Famer.
A lefthanded hitter, he had a career .331 average with 475 home runs before retiring in 1963.
Widely considered the greatest Cardinals player ever, Musial was the first person in team history to have his number (6) retired.
At the suggestion of a pal, actor John Wayne, Musial carried around autographed cards of himself to give away. He enjoyed doing magic tricks for kids and was fond of pulling out a harmonica to entertain crowds with a favorite, ”The Wabash Cannonball.”
Scandal-free and eager to play every day, Musial struck a chord with fans throughout America’s heartland and beyond. For much of his career, St. Louis was the most western outpost in the majors, and the Cardinals’ vast radio network spread word about him in all directions.
Musial never struck out more than 50 times in a season. He led the NL in most every hitting category for at least one year, except homers. He hit a career-high 39 home runs in 1948, just falling one short of winning the Triple Crown.
In all, Musial held 55 records when he retired in 1963. Fittingly, the accolades on his bronze Hall of Fame plaque start off with this fact, rather than flowery prose - “Holds many National League records …”
He played nearly until his 43rd birthday, adding to his totals. He got a hit with his final swing, sending an RBI single past Cincinnati’s rookie second baseman - that was Pete Rose, who ironically would break Musial’s league hit record of 3,630 some 18 years later.
Of those hits, Musial got exactly 1,815 at home and exactly 1,815 on the road. He also finished with 1,951 RBIs and scored 1,949 runs.
All that balance despite a most unorthodox left-handed stance. Legs and knees close together, he would cock the bat near his ear and twist his body away from the pitcher. When the ball came, he uncoiled.
”I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider,” Musial once said. ”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.”
Musial made his major league debut late in 1941, the season that Williams batted .406 for the Boston Red Sox and DiMaggio hit in a record 56 straight games for the New York Yankees.
In his best year, 1948, he had four five-hit games and batted .376, best in the National League. He also led his league that year in runs scored (135), hits (230), total bases (429), doubles (46), and triples (18).
Musial never expressed regret or remorse that he didn’t attract more attention than the cool DiMaggio or cantankerous Williams. Fact is, Musial was plenty familiar in every place he played.
Few could bring themselves to boo baseball’s nicest superstar, not even the Brooklyn Dodgers crowds that helped give him his nickname, a sign of weary respect for his .359 batting average at Ebbets Field.
Like DiMaggio and Williams, Musial embodied a time when the greats stayed with one team. He joined the Cardinals during the last remnants of the Gas House Gang and stayed in St. Louis until Gibson and Curt Flood ushered in a new era of greatness.
The only year Musial missed with the Cardinals was 1945, when he was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was based in Pearl Harbor, assigned to a unit that helped with ship repair.
Musial was the NL MVP in 1943, 1946 and 1948, and was runner-up four other years. He enjoyed a career remarkably free of slumps, controversies or rivalries.
In 1954, he set a major league record with five home runs in a doubleheader against the New York Giants. He hit .300 or better in 16 consecutive seasons and hit a record six home runs in All-Star play, including a 12th-inning, game-winning homer in 1955.
In 1962, at age 41, he batted .330 and hit 19 home runs. In his final game, on Sept. 29, 1963, he had two hits at Busch Stadium against the Reds, and the Cardinals retired his uniform number.
Stan was a favorite in Cooperstown, from his harmonica rendition of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies.
The Cardinals were dominant early in Musial’s career. They beat DiMaggio and the Yankees in the 1942 World Series, lost to the Yankees the next year and defeated the St. Louis Browns in 1944. In 1946, the Cardinals beat Williams and the visiting Red Sox in Game 7 at Sportsman’s Park.
Musial never played on another pennant winner after 1946. Yet even after the likes of Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron came to the majors, Musial remained among baseball’s best.
The original Musial statue outside the new Busch Stadium is a popular meeting place before games and carries this inscription: ”Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
In 1958, he reached the 3,000-hit level and became the NL’s first $100,000-a-year player. He never showed resentment over the multimillion dollar salaries of modern players. He thought they had more fun in his days.
”I enjoyed coming to the ballpark every day and I think we enjoyed the game,” Musial said in a 1991 Associated Press interview. ”We had a lot of train travel, so we had more time together. We socialized quite a bit and we’d go out after ballgames.”
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, his first year of eligibility.
”It was, you know, a dream come true,” Musial once said. ”I always wanted to be a ballplayer.”
After retiring as a player, Musial served for years in the Cardinals’ front office, including as general manager in 1967, when the Cardinals won the World Series.
In the 1970s, he occasionally played in Old-Timers’ Day games and could still line the ball to the wall. He was a fixture for decades at the Cooperstown induction ceremonies and also was a member of the Hall’s Veterans Committee. Often, after the Vets panel had voted, he’d pull out a harmonica conveniently located in his jacket pocket and lead the other members in a rendition of ”Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The Cardinals said Musial is survived by his four children, Richard, Gerry, Janet and Jean, as well as 11 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. Musial’s wife died in May 2012.
A public visitation for baseball great Stan Musial will be Thursday at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, with a funeral Mass on Saturday. Following the Mass, the funeral procession will travel to Busch Stadium, where the family will lay a wreath at the base of the Musial statue. After that, a private burial is planned.
One of the all-time greats has passed and will certainly have a place on the baseball team in heaven. And surely he took a little bit of Williamson, W.Va. with him.
(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)