Musial's humility exceeded prowess on diamond
A few hours before the 2009 All-Star Game, an extraordinary scene unfolded just outside Busch Stadium as waves of fans stopped by to admire the statue of Stan The Man. Some posed for photos. Others simply stared at the likeness of Musial, seemingly admiring how it captured his grace and poise, paying their respects to the greatest St. Louis Cardinal of them all.
To the people who love the Cardinals, this would soon be a moment to remember forever. One reason is because baseball in St. Louis is unlike baseball any place else.
The Cardinals aren't just a team. They're a way of life, a daily topic of conversation passed from one generation to another. For years, they were baseball's only team west of the Mississippi, and so their fan base extended across broad swaths of the country, from Missouri to Texas to points north and west and south.
Before those places had their own teams, they had the St. Louis Cardinals. Almost any player who has been lucky enough to play for the Cardinals will tell you that playing for the Cardinals is not like playing anywhere else.
Fans do not boo, at least not very often. They show up in huge numbers, and even though other sports seasons come and go, Cardinals season stretches from January to December.
To these fans, Stan Musial is the Cardinal against whom all others will always be measured. Anyway, on this warm summer night in 2009, on a night when baseball was set to honor its best, the throng gathered around the Stan Musial statue suddenly went quiet. There without warning was an unimaginable treat. Riding in a golf cart, looking frail, was Stan Musial.
At first, these fans at his statue had trouble understanding what they were seeing. Surely, this couldn't be the Stan Musial. As the golf cart drew closer, as Stan smiled broadly and began saying his hellos, they understood what was happening.
They did not rush the golf cart or bother Stan The Man for autographs or photos. They simply moved aside, smiled, called out his name and cheered as he made a lap around the statue. That small gesture, one of love and respect, spoke volumes about the respect in which Musial was held.
Later that night, he would be honored on the field before the game. He would shake the hands of the 2009 All-Stars and allow the warm, loving ovation to wash over him.
For the last half-century or so, Musial has been arguably baseball's most beloved figure. In public, he heard simple things.
"You are the greatest."
"You were my dad's favorite player."
"My grandfather loved you."
"Your photo hangs in our home."
He heard those kinds of things for so much of his life that surely he knew the words that were coming before they were even spoken. But the thing that made Stan Musial special, the thing that really bonded him to his team and his city, is how he reacted.
He was a man of humility, a man of dignity and grace. He made the game look easy, with that lightning-quick, twisting swing and a long, smooth running stride.
Off the field, Musial did everything right. He smiled and shook hands and signed autographs and seemed to never forget that he'd been about the luckiest man on earth to find a place like St. Louis to call home.
He became an institution at the Hall of Fame by playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on his harmonica moments before the start of each induction ceremony.
Some of Musial's legacy is easy to understand. He batted .300 or better 17 times and won seven batting titles. He was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player Award winner and played in 24 All-Star Games.
After awhile, though, the numbers blur. What several generations of Cardinals fans remember is that he was the guy who made time for fans, who made you believe that the 10 minutes he spent with you were the best 10 minutes of his day.
He understood the concept of role model long before we even used the phrase in connection with athletes. He believed he should represent his team and his city a certain way and that giving something back to the city that had given so much was a responsibility.
Perhaps it was the character of the man himself that enhanced his incredible accomplishments, making them seem even more remarkable. Regardless, 50 years since his last game, he still stands there at home plate in our mind, ripping line drives, sprinting around the bases, celebrating pennants.
In that way, he's forever young. He's forever Stan The Man.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.