ST. LOUIS – The greatest Cardinal of them all has passed away.
Hall of famer Stan Musial, winner of three MVP Awards and holder of nearly all franchise records from his 22-year career with the Cardinals, died Saturday at the age of 92.
Musial, the first player in franchise history to have his number retired, passed away at his home in Ladue, Mo., with his family by his side.
“We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family,” said William DeWitt Jr., chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals. “Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history and one of the best players in the history of baseball. The entire Cardinals organization extends its sincere condolences to Stan’s family, including his children Richard, Gerry, Janet and Jean, as well as his 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
“We join fans everywhere in mourning the loss of our dear friend and reflect on how fortunate we all are to have known ‘Stan the Man’.”
A 24-time All-Star, Musial hit .331 and had 475 home runs and 1,951 RBI during his career and led the league in doubles eight different times. He finished his career with 3,630 hits — exactly 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road.
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.
One of Musial’s biggest admirers was former Cardinal Albert Pujols, who was often compared to him during his time in St. Louis. The two forged a close relationship during Pujols’ time with the Cardinals.
“I enjoy every moment that I’m around him,” Pujols said in 2010. “I know it’s only five or 10 minutes, but just to talk about baseball or ask him how he’s doing and he asks me how I’m doing and just tells me to keep it up and all that.
“Something happened this year that was very special, he called me when I hit No. 400 and sent me a video. I appreciated that a lot. I’m blessed to be able to meet him and get to know more about him and the history and the things that he did in the game of baseball and out of baseball.”
Musial made his big league debut with the Cardinals on Sept. 17, 1941, at just 20 years old. He led the National League in batting average seven different times and hit at least .300 in 16 consecutive seasons. In 1962 at age 41, he hit .330 in 433 at-bats before returning for his 22nd and final big league season the following year.
The Donora, Pa., native had his best season in 1948 when he finished one home run shy of the Triple Crown to win his third and final MVP award. The left-handed swinger hit .376 and had 39 home runs and 131 RBI and also led the league in hits, runs scored, doubles and triples. Amazingly, he struck out just 34 times in 611 at-bats.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer, 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.
“That’s pretty special,” Pujols added. “I told you guys that it’s not about the baseball player he was but the man he was. To take time off and go serve the country and to be able to do the things he did on the field and off the field, it’s pretty special to be a part of something like that.
“Being in this organization, this history that the organization has, that’s part of Stan. He kind of took that step for us to follow, just like Red Schoendienst and Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, Ozzie (Smith), all of those Hall of Famers, Bruce Sutter. Guys that are really true Cardinals that played the game the right way.”
Pujols asked reporters in St. Louis to stop referring to him as “El Hombre,” which means “The Man” in English, because he thought it was disrespectful towards Musial. Pujols explained that, “Stan Musial is ‘The Man’ in St. Louis.”
The Cardinals developed a Stand for Stan campaign in 2010 in attempt to have President Barack Obama to award Musial with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He made an emotional appearance at Busch Stadium on Oct. 2, 2010, taking a lap around the field as fans held up cardboard cutouts of him.
The campaign worked and Musial was invited to Washington, D.C., to receive the award at the White House on Feb. 15, 2011. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor a civilian can receive.
Musial was known for his love of the harmonica. He would often pull it from his pocket to play for crowds at awards banquets and other social functions. He would also often get down into his batting stance and mock a swing to loud cheers and applause.
A statue of Musial outside Busch Stadium is inscribed with a quote from former baseball commissioner Ford Frick, who said, “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
Musial was one of the most underrated players in baseball history. But not in St. Louis, where news of his death is sure to hit hard with the many generations of Cardinal Nation.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalized but the Cardinals have set up a memorial site around his statue outside Gate 3 at Busch Stadium.