Stan Musial

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

St. Louis Cardinals fans are familiar with the phrase the Cardinal Way. Analysts and those inside the game occasionally say, "He plays the game the right way." Sometimes these phrases are overused, bordering on cliché. Other times, it's the best description.

That's the case with Stan Musial, who died Saturday evening in suburban St. Louis at the age of 92.

Given the nickname Stan "the Man" by Brooklyn Dodgers fans for his incredible play at Ebbets Field, Stan had a reputation -- and the statistics to back it up -- for being just as good on the road as he was at home.

The writers at fangraphs.com have a few articles on Stan's career in baseball. According to them, Musial's lifetime Wins Above Replacement (WAR), an advanced statistic used to compare how much better a player is compared to a replacement, is 139.4 -- ranking him 9th all-time among hitters.

More traditional statistics are also impressive. Hits, 3,630; doubles, 725; triples, 177; home runs, 475; and batting average, .331.

Musial accomplished all this during his 22-year career while skipping a season to serve in the Navy during World War II.

While he ranks as one of baseball's all-time best, the way Musial handled himself off the field made him all the more indelible to fans.

Humble. Accessible. Friendly. These are just a few words to describe the face of the Cardinals franchise.

Stan Musial may have been baseball's best ambassador. Whether it was signing autographs after a game or playing his signature harmonica -- he often serenaded others with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- Musial understood what it meant to be a role model. In today's environment in which the cloud of steroids or other indiscretions overshadows some players, this is all the more refreshing.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz may have summed it up the best in his Monday column. "Musial retired, from life, as baseball's career leader in kindness."

As winter gives way to spring the Cardinals once again will treat fans to a spectacular Opening Day. There's something special about this day in Cardinal Country. The parade of current players. The Budweiser Clydesdales. And of course the return of former players, including those inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Stan Musial was an Opening Day constant. Even in latter years of his life when his once healthy body grew tired, Stan "the Man" would be carted around Busch Stadium, wave to fans, and do his famous corkscrew half swing. That was classic Stan. A man who will be missed. A man who left an incredible legacy. A man who loved people and led like few others.

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