'The Man' Lived Up to His Name

'The Man' Lived Up to His Name

Maybe it is right that Stan Musial, after a long and happy life, passed away while the sports news is so strange and disagreeable. Here, one of the most famous athletes in the world admits to Oprah that he cheated and bullied his way to the top. There, one of happiest college football stories of the year talks about being duped, and how the girlfriend who had inspired him to do great things never existed. The sports pages overflow with cynicism and bitterness and anger. Maybe it is an especially good time to look back and remember Stan Musial.

This is not to say that Musial should be deified or idealized … he was a man, flesh and blood, made his share of mistakes and hit into his share of double plays. But if there's one overriding theme of Stan Musial's life, it was how much he wanted to make people happy. This was true when he played ball, the way he would duck into his peek-a-boo batting stance -- "like a small boy looking around the corner to see if the cops were coming," the Hall of Famer pitcher Ted Lyons would say -- the way he would uncork on a pitch and then break out of the batter’s box, full of expectation, full of ambition; 725 times he would turn those hits into doubles, 177 more he would make them triples. No one in baseball history rounded first at full speed as many times as Stan Musial.

But this zeal to make people happy did not end when he stopped playing. Every single day, when Stan Musial left the house, he would tuck his harmonica into his pocket. Every single day, at some point, he would run into someone, and he would pull out that harmonica, and he would play "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Musial would say he learned to play the harmonica because he did not like speaking in public, did not feel comfortable doing it, and the harmonica gave him a voice. It made people smile.

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