One More Tribute For Baseball’s Perfect Warrior
By Tom Anselm
A few weeks ago, we all lost a good man. He wasn’t a former President, or a war hero (but was a veteran) . He was just a baseball player, which as he has been quoted as saying, was “all I ever really wanted to be.” But he was more than that, you know. As you may have watched or read about Stan Musial these past days, your were sure to note his kindness, decency and generosity, giving signed baseball memorabilia away like sticks of gum, comforting a pitcher who had been badgered by racial slurs, staying true to his wife for 72 years.
My son Tim and I shared a special moment together as we went down to the public wake at the Basilica of St. Louis on the Thursday after he died. There was not a big crowd in the fading frigid afternoon. The lights were low. The church was very quiet, and peaceful. We just walked up the main aisle and over to the casket. Ushers nodded, Navy honor guard stoically stood at rest, flanking the body. I knelt down before the casket. I didn’t plan to do this… it just felt right.
I prayed for Stan and his family, thanked God for the man he was, and for the grace to be more like him. I asked Stan to call out “Whaddyasay” to my dad Emil and father-in-law Jack, and to shake their hands, and tell them that we miss them. And I prayed for sons everywhere who loved the game, and can look to him as a model of joy, dignity and decency.
And then there was the funeral that Saturday, held on the exact same day and at the exact same place that another “Splendid Pole” attended Mass 14 years ago, Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla. When I heard this, I recalled some of the other serendipitous moments of Stan’s life.
He started out as a hot pitching prospect in the late ’30s, right out of high school, only to hurt his shoulder diving for a line drive in a minor league game. But he could always hit One might say it was that injury that actually led to his future success. His early years were remarkable, with several pennants and World Series appearances. But he never played in another Fall Classic after 1946. He retired in 1963, missing by a year the remarkable 1964 Cardinal drive to the pennant and series triumph over the Yankees. Then, he came back in 1967 as general manager and won the World Series, beating the Red Sox. Talk about putting an exclamation point on a Hall of Fame career!
Stan’s wife Lillian died this past May, amazingly at 6 pm., “6” the number he got only because it was the jersey that fit him best in 1941. And he himself passed away at 5:45, but as his grandson, best friend and caretaker for many of his later years said, “Stan always told me, ‘If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late.'” I heard it said that the seven-time National League batting champ (yeah, I said 7!) needed that extra few minutes to sign a bat for St. Peter. For as the former St. Louisan and now Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, “now he’s in the only Hall of Fame that really counts.”
Can we make men larger in death than they were in life? Sure, that happens. Bobby Kennedy cautioned against that in his eulogy for his brother Jack. But in Stan Musial’s case, that would be hard to do, for his life was such a testament to what all men should strive for.
One more note, going back to that serendipity. Son Tim went to the memorial downtown Saturday to see the family lay a wreath at the Musial statue. He arrived early, listened to the eulogies coming from the cathedral on the radio. As he emerged from his car, he glanced at the empty parking spaces nearby. Number 274, Number 275, clearly marked. But where Number 276 should have been, the “2” and the “7” were worn down, faded, all but invisible. And all that remained was the number “6”.
Name a bridge for “The Man”? I’m not sure. Better it should be named in honor of the young man who lost his life during the construction. How about changing the name of the stadium to “Musial Field”? Probably not going to happen, but I’d love to see it.
I only know that most of the saints in the Christian tradition were just ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives.
Is there maybe room for another “St. Stan” in that Big Clubhouse in the Sky?
As the boy said in the movie “Angels in the Outfield”.….”It could happen.”
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