ST. LOUIS – A stranger approached Stan Musial’s grandson Andrew Edmonds during the Hall of Famer’s public viewing Thursday, with tears running down his face.
“Your grandpa’s best attribute,” the man said, “was that he made nobodies feel like somebodies.”
The thought was shared by many Saturday as friends, family, former teammates and many who never even met him gathered at the Cathedral Basilica for a funeral Mass to remember the life of the one known simply as, ‘The Man’.
Musial, who died Jan. 19 at the age of 92, spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals and maintained his residence in St. Louis following his playing days.
Among those in attendance Saturday were the Cardinals six living Hall of Famers – Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Herzog, Bruce Sutter and Musial’s former roommate Red Schoendienst – and five former and current Cardinals managers.
Many others spoke before, during and after the service of what Musial meant to them, the game of baseball and to the city of St. Louis.
Broadcaster Bob Costas provided a heartwarming and emotional eulogy, recalling how Paul Simon wrote a song in the 1960s asking, ‘Where did you go Joe DiMaggio?’
“No one in St. Louis ever had to wonder where Stan Musial had gone,” Costas told the crowd. “He was right here, right here at home. Our greatest ballplayer sure, but also our friend, our neighbor and that is why the bond and attachment between this player and this city is unique and lasting.”
Musial is the Cardinals’ franchise all-time leader in games played, at-bats, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, walks and extra-base hits. At the time of his retirement in 1963, he held or shared 17 major league records.
He hit .331 and had 475 home runs and 1,951 RBI during his career and led the league in doubles eight times. He finished his career with 3,630 hits – exactly 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road.
For many in attendance Saturday, his statistics were meaningless.
“To me it wasn’t the numbers, it was the man he was,” former Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols said. “That to me was the most important thing, what he did off the field and always with a big smile. You never saw him not smiling. Every memory to me was great. I was blessed to have him and blessed to know him over the last 11 years. Obviously he blessed my life many, many times.
“To live for 92 years, what a great life. I think Cardinal nation and St. Louis, we should be proud and blessed to have had him for that long.”
Musial is also celebrated for skipping the 1945 season to serve in the Navy in World War II. When he returned a year later, Musial won his second MVP award and led the Cardinals to the 1946 World Series title.
Bishop Richard Stika told a story of how Musial used to push his wife Lil’s wheelchair out to their car each Sunday following Mass and how children would follow along and offer their assistance. When Musial would open the trunk to put away the wheelchair, he’d pull out autographed items to give to the kids.
Musial was a father to four, a grandfather to 11 and a great grandfather to 12. He was a friend to several hundred and a hero and icon to thousands of others. Fittingly a crowd of Cardinals fans that were gathered outside the Cathedral were let into the service when a patch of empty seats were discovered off to the side.
His son-in-law Martin Schwarze recalled a time when Musial accompanied him on a trip to Australia. While shopping in a mall, a man turned to Schwarze and said, “Don’t look now, but I think that’s Stan the Man.” Schwarze smiled and brought Musial over to meet him.
Schwarze also told the story of a time in recent years when Musial was asked how he would do if he played baseball today with the evolution of closers and tough relief pitchers. When Musial responded that he would hit .275, the interviewer reminded him that he had a lifetime .331 batting average.
“Yea, but I’m 75 years old,” Musial said.
Said Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., “He was a friend to Presidents and Popes but never missed an opportunity to make a young child or fan happy with an autograph or picture. He made it a point to reach out to rookies and role players to let them know they mattered and were important to the team.”
Among the other notables to attend the funeral were baseball commissioner Bud Selig, former Cardinals and current Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty and current Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.
Former Cardinals player and manager Joe Torre was in attendance, as was former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and current manager Mike Matheny. Closer Jason Motte was among a group of current players to attend while Jack Clark, Jim Edmonds and several former Cardinals players took part as well.
“There’s no question he’s a landmark here and from the first time you met him you knew he was something special,” Torre said. “He’s everything you hoped he would be and more, to have a superstar not act like one and to be a friend to everyone who shook his hand.
“The one that always puts a smile on my face was his jokes. They were the worst but the way he told them, he would start laughing before he told the punch line and everybody would laugh with him. He was just so comfortable in his skin and he made everybody feel comfortable around him. He was a great humanitarian, he really cared for people and they obviously embraced him here.”
Said Selig, “It really was a celebration of a great life. He really was a great player and everybody knows that, all the statistics, but a remarkable human being in every way. It was an honor to be here today.
“It was remarkable. He was a great man and we’re lucky in baseball to have a man as great as this off the field, be one of our great super stars of all-time. You could see and hear that today.”
The funeral procession traveled to Busch Stadium following the Mass, where they stopped in front of Musial’s statue for a prayer ceremony. As a single Clydesdale stood guard, the Musial family took turns laying single roses at the base of the statue.
Hundreds of Cardinals fans began singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” as the family waved and joined in. The crowd then erupted into loud cheers and applause, a touching moment for anyone in attendance.
A fan held up a sign that read, “A love story. Stan, Lil and Cardinal Nation.” Musial and his wife Lil were married nearly 72 years before she died last May.
Bishop Stika told the story of the time Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis and Musial and his wife came to see him after previously meeting him in Poland. When Musial got out of his car, the crowd waiting to see the Pope cheered and went crazy for him.
“It was obvious of that special connection that existed between Stan the Man and the people of St. Louis,” Bishop Stika said.