I watched most of the Stan Musial DVD I picked up at Winter Warm-Up this week. For a fan whose first mental image of Stan is of him standing in a box at Busch Stadium on Opening Day, Cardinal red jacket on and body striking a memorable stance, this was an odd experience. It almost felt like sitting down with your grandmother to look at an old photo album filled with pictures of your grandfather in his prime.
I bought the film expecting a lot of highlight clips and film of Stan playing baseball – and there certainly was a fair amount of that – but what I was not prepared for was all the interaction with Stan on camera. Constant interviews and conversations with Stan form the backbone of this documentary – maybe just enough to leave a person with a feeling of sad familiarity.
I say sad because I couldn’t shake the reminder that the Stan I was watching – the Stan so strong, so energetic, and so seemingly invincible – is not the Stan I know. The Stan I know comes with a pressing need to appreciate what’s in front of me. The Stan I know is a man who can’t make an appearance at Busch Stadium without Bernie Miklasz writing something like, “You don’t know how many more opportunities like this we’re going to get with Stan Musial.” (btw – that is not a quote from Bernie…)
Instead, the Stan Musial in this DVD was one who sat easily, who conversed energetically, who laughed loudly…and who looked as if he could spring out of the chair and still lace a triple to right field. With a strong, steady voice, and a casual presence that reclined effortlessly next to his wife, Lil, he gave the impression that as soon as this interview was over, he would stand up, light up the grill, and invite the camera crew to dinner on a Sunday afternoon.
It was almost too much to bear.
I absolutely loved watching the film…but I was constantly fighting a near overwhelming sense of sadness that this Stan – the Stan Musial that walked down the streets of St. Louis signing autographs for children with a sure-footed stride – is not the Stan Musial that would shake my hand if I am ever lucky enough to meet The Man. The Stan on screen would grip your hand with the strength of a man used to slugging Major League fastballs 400 feet with a wooden club. Simply reaching out to grasp this man’s hand would cause another man to steel himself – check his own grip – for the experience.
One of the greatest regrets I have as a Cardinal fan is never getting to see Stan Musial play baseball. But I can live with this regret because it is a regret born of circumstance. I wasn’t even born until 14 years after Stan’s last season in the field. No, the regret that will haunt me soon is the one that will settle in when Stan is no longer with us – the regret of having never met The Man. I would love just one chance to stand in the same room with Stan “The Man” Musial.
And, yes…I would still steel myself – check my grip – before shaking his hand.
A Bit More…
I don’t want to sell the DVD short on educational moments. It had plenty of those. For example, I never knew the story of Stan’s 3,000th hit. Because the team was on the road in Chicago – how fitting that he hit it against the Cubs?! – the Cardinals elected to sit Stan with one hit to go. They wanted him to get the hit in St. Louis, and the team was heading home the next day. But in the 9th inning, the Cardinals were trailing and Stan entered the game as a pinch hitter. His 3,000th hit ended up being a game winning, RBI double to give the Cards the win against their arch rivals. The train carrying the team home to St. Louis that night stopped at least eight different times so Stan could make an appearance in front of massive crowds waiting for a glimpse of The Man at stations along the way. When he finally pulled into Union Station in St. Louis, he spent at least an hour signing autographs for the night-owl Cardinal fans waiting for him. Perfect.
Another memorable story involved a group of fans seeking Stan’s signature. Stan was well-known for his willingness to sign autographs at nearly every opportunity – so great was his appreciation for his fans. On this day, Stan and Lil emerged from their vehicle and were instantly mobbed by fans. One of the fans happened to bump into Lil, knocking her to the ground and ripping her silk stockings. As Lil tells it, she stood up and gently pushed the fan back, saying, “What did you do that for?” Stan did nothing. In fact, when it was all over and Stan had finished signing autographs, he turned to his wife who had been all but assaulted by a careless fan, and said, “You shouldn’t have done that. That was my fan.”
When I heard that story, a part of me felt a bit guilty. Stan has given so much to us – so much of himself – doesn’t he deserve to rest, now? Doesn’t he deserve a break? I think most of us would answer yes…most of us, except Stan. It’s clear how much The Man loves Cardinal Nation…and asking him to rest on Opening Day and not make an appearance I’m sure would be a shock to Mr. Musial.
They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.