posted on January 21, 2013 05:26
Like the majority of you reading this, I didn’t get a chance to watch him play.
But, if you’ve lived in St. Louis for a decent part of your life, odds are at some point you at least got a chance to see him in person…and see the gentleman he was.
To me, that’s what makes his life so celebrated.
Let me put it this way: The Man had all kinds of absurd baseball statistics and, yes, if he wore pinstripes or Dodger blue, he would’ve been more appreciated…but all you heard Saturday night from those who knew him or those who had an encounter with him was how incredible of a person he was.
In Musial’s case, his baseball skills were superhuman, but the manner with which he treated people was somehow even better.
He loved the game. He loved the Cardinals. He loved St. Louis. And he loved the fans.
Over the last 11 years, St. Louis has lost two of its most prized treasures in Jack Buck and Stan The Man.
Both were giants in their respective industries.
But, the reason why they were so beloved was the manner with which they went about treating others when the cameras weren’t around.
When I started at KMOV in 2000, I was around Busch Stadium daily for home games. And, it was my first chance to see Jack Buck when he wasn’t working. You never know what you’ll really find out…and in a way, if it’s not going to be pleasant, you’d rather not find it out. But, there he was, everyday, despite his Parkinson’s, treating everyone in the kindest of manners.
And with Stan, the humility was almost hard to believe…except everything about him was genuine…and so you knew you could buy-in.
That’s how Stan would greet people.
And if you wanted to have a conversation with him, he was more than game. Wanted an autograph? You got one.
As recently as Christmas 2010, I got a book autographed by Musial for my father-in-law.
Anyone could have.
Because he still came into Stan The Man, Inc. everyday to sign for his fans.
The absolute greatest moment in my career involved Stan Musial. It’s a moment that I don’t think can be topped. And, almost six years later, I still can’t believe it happened.
Perhaps you’ve heard me tell the story before, and if so, I apologize for being repetitive, but it’s an illustration of the man The Man was.
In April of 2007, the Cardinals were receiving their World Series rings before the second game of the season. From 2000 through 2004, I was down at Busch Stadium for the vast majority of the home games, and over that time, Tony La Russa and I had developed a rather intriguing relationship. Sometimes we got along. Sometimes I drove him up the wall. But, I’d like to think there was a mutual respect there…and I know we both had an intense passion for the Cardinals and for winning. It still strikes me as bizarre that I felt comfortable enough to sit in his office for an hour the day after the team got knocked out of the NLCS in 2002---that heartbreaking season in heartbreaking fashion---and we both just talked about how miserable we were.
But, the point is I knew how badly he wanted to win that 10th World Championship, and he knew how badly I, as a fan, wanted to see it happen.
And so after the team did indeed win that 10th World Championship, I hadn’t had a chance to see him. We didn’t go to Spring Training that year, and so my first chance to say “hello” and congratulate him was the second game of the 2007 season.
I wandered into his office and sat down. We began to talk about the 2006 NLCS and World Series, and it was fascinating enough for a Cardinal fan. I was happy I had a chance to discuss something pleasant with him…and incredibly happy for him that he got that World Championship in St. Louis he so desired.
Everything was cool…and I was getting ready to say my goodbyes and let him get ready for the game that night.
…in walks Stan Musial and Bob Gibson.
So, you now have three faces on the Cardinal Mount Rushmore sitting there having a conversation…and me.
My initial inclination was to get up…because the awkwardness of me sitting there with those three guys was so incredibly obvious that I wanted to save Tony from having to ask me to leave.
But, then I thought, “This is my Field of Dreams, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation, so I’m going to just sit here and take this in.”
So, I sat there…dumbfounded…that I was the fourth person in a conversation involving Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Tony La Russa.
It’s still my belief to this day that La Russa didn’t ask me to leave, because he knew how big of a Cardinal fan I was, and he knew how much that moment meant to me.
I was content to just sit there and listen.
Just then…Stan looks at me and says, “You should’ve seen the way this guy could pitch.”
Stan Musial is looking at me…bringing me into the conversation…to talk about Bob Gibson…with Bob Gibson sitting right next to him. And the only other person in the room is the most successful manager in the franchise’s history.
Field. Of. Dreams.
But, it wasn’t like Musial felt badly for me. He didn’t care who I was or who I wasn’t. He just wanted to talk baseball. And he wanted me to feel comfortable.
So, I settled in and listened as the three of them went back and forth about a variety of baseball topics.
None of them asked me to leave.
And, Stan made me a part of the conversation.
But, it wasn’t forced. It wasn’t some heroic gesture. It was just his nature. His nature typified The Golden Rule.
Now, eventually, Walt Jocketty walked in the office and asked the question I’m sure everyone else was thinking when he saw me sitting there, which was, “What the hell are you doing in here?”
And, with that, I was on my way out.
But, that was the mountaintop for me as a Cardinal fan…and it was also another example of the way Stan Musial went about treating people.
He was just so good…in so many ways.
I do hope that St. Louis will have another outpouring of grief for a sports figure like we did with Jack Buck in 2002 and are with Stan Musial in 2013. That will mean that another great one---away from their jobs---will have come along. But, free agency, the nature of business, and the understandable desire to live in another part of the country makes it rather unlikely.
And while that may sound sad, I guess I look at it from the perspective that we were incredibly lucky…because it’s not like other cities are going to experience a Jack Buck or Stan Musial now. The era is over. The era of a player playing his whole career with one team…then living the rest of his life in that team’s home city…and being a first class individual at his job and away from his job are over. Things change. So it goes.
But, we were absurdly lucky to have one of the greatest broadcasters, one of the greatest ballplayers, and two of the finest people associated with the game here in St. Louis for so long.
Sometimes people say about someone who just passed on, “There’ll never be another one like him,” but in reality, there’s a good chance there will be. In this case, I’m quite certain there will never be another one like Stan Musial.
American sports have seen legends come and go. Some have been known by just their first names. Others by just their initials.
But, only one has been great enough to be known simply as The Man.
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