“It is a very sad day for me. I knew Stan very well. He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could. Again, a true gentleman on and off the field — I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever.” – Willie Mays commenting to ESPN on Stan Musial’s death.
Unfortunately, I missed Stan Musial’s active playing days in baseball. I have seen film of him. One of the sweetest swings I’ve ever seen and, arguably, the best left handed swing of all time. Musial is consistently ranked among the top five professional baseball players in the history of the game, but, I remember him more as an ambassador of the game. He represented himself, the Cardinals organization, and the city of St. Louis with dignity and class until the day he passed last Saturday.
Stan Musial did magnificent things on the baseball field, but perhaps his greatest contribution to the game came in helping to change the racial atmosphere of the 1950’s baseball clubhouses. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, but there was still a racial divide among the players in the clubhouses long after. An ex-baseball coach of mine posted the following story yesterday recounting how Stan Musial played a key role in the acceptance if the negro baseball player into Major League Baseball.
“Mays , Aaron , and Campenella were playing cards in a NL All-Star clubhouse in the mid-fifties and Musial came over and sat down and said to deal him in . As the foremost NL player of the time , it validated the black stars in their fellow all stars eyes . I have seen both Mays and Aaron say they thought it was classy and they were very grateful to Musial for the gesture.”
I think the greatest lesson Stan Musial leaves us with in this age of modern sport is that the individual, no matter how good, should live to serve the sport. We acquire great things from our sports and too often we expect the sport to serve us, instead of us serving our beloved sport.
Stan Musial, 1920-2013