Baseball Hall of Famer, Stan Musial is the greatest player in St. Louis Cardinals history. He still holds many of the team's records including a National League record 3,603 base hits. Stan the Man was an elusive target for past biographers because he was a very nice man who was not given to temper tantrums or excessive drama. George Vecsey, however, succeeds where past biographers failed in this splendid 2012 book.
Stan Musial was born in Donora, Pennsylvania to working class Polish immigrant parents. Stan and his father, Lukasz, never got along and the slugger was reticent about his upbringing in general. Musial was never one to dwell on the negative when he could find something positive to think about. Musial was an indifferent student but learned early on that he was athletic with a special gift for baseball. He was helped along the way by some teachers, coaches and even a local businessman who saw potential in the polite young man. Musial never forgot a kindness and stayed in touch with those who had helped him back home in Donora.
In 1937, Musial convinced his father to let him sign a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. His father wanted Stan to get a real job but Musial soon proved his stubborn father wrong. He was signed as a pitcher and had middling success in the Cardinals system but he could hit. He could always hit.
In 1940, Musial hurt his arm and in 1941, he became a full time outfielder. He was a sensational hitter in that season and rose from the minor leagues to a season closing stint with the Cardinals. The Cardinals were involved in a wild pennant race with the Brooklyn Dodgers, which they did not win but Musial hit an amazing .426 in 12 games. A star was born.
The Cardinals were the best team in the National League in those days and they went to the World Series in 4 of Musial's first 5 seasons, winning 3 championships. Musial became the most feared hitter in the National League, winning seven batting championships. He and was voted league Most Valuable Player on 3 occasions: 1943, 1946, and 1948.
Unfortunately, for Musial, the Cardinals last won the pennant in 1946 and he played until 1963. One reason was the reluctance of ownership to integrate. They were the "team of the South" and did not have an African-American player until 1954. While never a crusader, Musial welcomed black players to the game and befriended later Cardinal greats Bill White, Bob Gibson, and Curt Flood.
Musial was legendarily nice but he was not dull. He had a lively sense of humor and was wont to pull out a harmonica to serenade one and all at the drop of a hat. He became a successful restaurateur and was a notoriously soft touch for people down on their luck. The book is full of tales of Musial's kindness and generosity.
Musial campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960 and developed a lively friendship with author James Michener on the campaign trail. The two men became drinking buddies and close friends until Michener's death. They took many trips together over the years; one of the most memorable was one to Rome when they dined with the first Polish Pope, John Paul II. The pontiff wasn't quite sure who Stan the Man was but he enjoyed his company.
Musial was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, 1969. He continued to make public appearances for the Cardinals, and was honored with a statue in front of Busch Stadium. Stan never liked the statue but never said anything publicly about it to the day he died at the age of 92 in 2013.
Author George Vecsey conducted many interviews for the book and unearthed some great stories including the story of Musial's falling out with former teammate and legendary announcer Joe Garagiola. Nobody's perfect. The book is an entertaining, informative read for any baseball fan.
Best part of story, including ending:
Stan Musial was a fine athlete and an even better human being.
Best scene in story:
I enjoyed the account of Musial's time campaigning for John Kennedy in 1960 along with James Michener and Angie Dickinson.
Opinion about the main character:
Stan Musial was a very nice man but he had a lively sense of humor. I enjoyed spending time with him.