Quick: What was the biggest miscarriage of justice perpetrated by the fans of Major League Baseball in the last 15 years?
In 1999, MLB asked fans to vote for an All Century team, a team comprised of the best players from the past 100 years of the game. Pete Rose made the team. Ken Griffey Jr, though not midway through his career, made the team.
Stan Musial was not elected.
Near tragedy was averted when Bud Selig and a panel of experts expanded the team to include Musial. It had to be a slap in the face for the man universally considered the greatest St. Louis Cardinal of all time. So why was a man who threw up a CAREER slash line of .331/.417/.559 snubbed by the voting public? Its actually quite simple, really.
Baseball had just returned a few seasons prior from a strike that nearly put a stake through the heart of the game. Fans left in droves, most of them long time fans who couldn’t fathom a World Series cancellation. When McGwire and Sosa had their epic home run chase in 1998, most of the fans who tuned in were a younger generation lured by the allure of the longball. To them, McGwire became the face of the Cardinals. Sure, Stan was around, but the younger casual fans just saw him as the goofy old guy with that weird swing playing the silly harmonica. They did not realize the breadth of accomplishment Musial had attained.
One of baseball’s most serendipitous stats is this: Stan Musial had 3,630 career hits. 1,815 were at home, 1,815 were on the road. Using those numbers, it is safe to say that Stanislaus Frank Musial was one of the most consistent players of all time. That sentence is all wrong. Stan Musial was one of the most consistently GREAT players of all time.
What some people have to realize is that Stan Musial did not play his entire career in an era that aided and abetted hitters. Quite the contrary: he came up in the early forties, when, aside from guys he was overshadowed by named Williams and DiMaggio, there just wasn’t that much offense. He ended his career in the late 50’s/early 60’s when, aside from 1961 when expansion produced some gaudy offensive stats, it was a pitchers game. Stan was never a power hitter who led the league in home runs, yet he ended up with 475 of them. In 12,717 at bats he struck out 696 times(!), which would make one think he was a slap singles hitter. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. In addition to those 475 longballs, he had 725 career doubles, good for third all time. He also collected 177 career triples, which, while only 19th all time is inherently deceiving. For you see, the 18 names in front of Stanley all played in the dead ball era, when triples were the standard meter for power and the game was played in a completely different style. So, in other words, since the advent of the modern game in 1920, he possesses the most triples of any player, which is a testament to his all around athleticism and baserunning skill. He had a true season for the ages in 1948, hitting .376/.450/.702, with 39 home runs, 131 driven in, 230 hits, 46 doubles, 18 triples, 135 runs scored, and 429 total bases. His OPS was a staggering 1.152, his OPS+ 200. These are numbers that would not be approached by a left handed batter until Barry Bonds juiced up heydays. A remarkable season by a remarkable man.
Stan Musial was called the “National League’s Ted Williams” through most of his playing career. In the 40’s he was overshadowed by the Splinter and the Yankee Clipper, in the 50’s by Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. But Stan Musial was truly no mans shadow. He was a magnificent ballplayer forgotten by the epochs of time, a magnificent human being whose contributions have gone largely under the radar. Do yourself a favor. Look into the stats. Look into the man. I highly recommend George Vescey’s recent biography on the Man. If you’re looking for juicy innuendo and nasty rumors, you’re reading the wrong book. If you want to read the story of a true American Icon and one of the ten best ballplayers of all time, this is your read.
Rest In Peace, Stan. I hope your death brings new enlightenment to your incredible career.