Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stan the Man

By the time I became a fan of baseball, Stan Musial had been retired for several years. Nonetheless, he was still a major figure in the game, talked about with reverence. Not only was he one of the true greats in terms of on-the-field performance, he was considered quite the gentleman.

Now, of course, Stan the Man is pretty much forgotten by baseball fans. Despite having statistics that remain high up the lists (get more detail here) even 45 years after his retirement, he gets nowhere near the recognition that he is due. He was both outstanding and consistent, never having a season below league average (not at the age of 20, not at the age of 42). Stan won 3 MVPs, finished second 4 other times, and was in the top 10 in voting 14 times (the last at age 41).

But I'm not going to go on and on about his statistics (OK, I'll mention that his career spanned the years 1941-63; he played against Johnny Cooney, who broke into the majors in 1921, and against Pete Rose, who was still playing in 1986). More importantly, he is still regarded as one of the finest men ever to have played professional sports.

It's as if we only have a limited number of spaces to remember retired athletes. In baseball, we have Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, who vie for the unofficial Greatest Living Ballplayer title, and maybe some regional figures, like Ernie Banks in Chicago, but that's it. You can actually make a case for Musial as the GLB, but there are fewer people who saw him play, he spent his entire career in St. Louis, and he didn't set that single notable record that someone broke.

Nevertheless, Stan Musial is a strong contender, and could well have been one of the 10-15 best baseball players in history. If you want to read more, I point you to a fine summary at FanNation, and, of course, to the post from the wonderful Joe Posnanski that inspired this one. (You can also vote at Joe's site for the Greatest Living Ballplayer. I wish Joe had used something other than single-choice voting, because I would have to pick Willie Mays first, as have 38% of the respondents so far, but I'd sure like to offer some support for Stan as one of my top 3 or 4. And who the heck was the one person who voted for Reggie Jackson - Reggie?)

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