ST. LOUIS — Thousands of Cardinals fans braved frigid temperatures and long lines to pay their final respects to baseball legend Stan Musial Thursday afternoon.
And it would have taken a lot more to keep them from seeing the man that most of them never even had the opportunity to meet.
Musial, a Hall of Famer who spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals, died Saturday evening at the age of 92.
The line of people extended down the street when the doors to the Cathedral Basilica opened just before 2 p.m. and a steady line continued throughout the day. Some wore business attire while others donned Musial’s No. 6 jersey or other Cardinals gear.
“Stan gave me a lot of good times so I can surely give him a little of my time,” said longtime Cardinals fan Gene Sandrowski. “Anywhere I go, I say I’m from St. Louis and they say the arch and Stan Musial, or Stan Musial and the arch. He’s as big as the arch.
“That’s the man that made St. Louis. There will never be another Stan Musial.”
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.
The 24-time All-Star 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’s casket was open and he was dressed in a Cardinals tie and his traditional red blazer that he often wore to Busch Stadium with the rest of the club’s Hall of Famers.
“Stan Musial is my hero,” said 27-year-old Cardinals fan Matt Carlstrom, who was one of many to wear Musial’s jersey to the visitation. “He’s the king of St. Louis. There will never be another one like him. He is Mr. Cardinal.
“He was a very generous person and very approachable. My uncle said one time as a kid he rode his bike down by his house and he was outside washing his car and he went up to him and signed a baseball for him and got to talk to him for 15 minutes while he washed his car. That’s the type of person he was.”
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.
Fittingly Musial’s casket was flanked by a pair of Naval officers that stood silently at attention as fans passed by to pay their last respects.
“I was one of the fortunate who got to see him play a handful of games while I was a kid,” said Greg Wilburn. “He really did a lot of things while I was there that were special. He never let me down so I just felt compelled to come see him one last time.
“He was just a treasure for St. Louis and certainly a treasure for anyone who knew him or people that just knew of him. I never heard or saw anybody say anything bad about him. He was just one of those people you’ve got to come say goodbye to.”
The 64-year-old Wilburn recalled a time when he saw Musial hit a towering pinch-hit home run in the second game of a double header while just 13 years old. Years later, he drove Musial in a parade across the river in Germantown, Ill.
Others at Thursday’s visitation told stories of the day Musial hit five home runs during a double header or when they got the chance to meet him at a restaurant or bar after a game. Nearly everyone had some sort of story from a time they met Musial or knew someone that had.
“I’m starting to understand what he meant to the whole community,” said Musial’s grandson Brian Schwarze. “I got to be very close to him the last six years. Even just going out to dinner, he was never bothered by fans. He never minded stopping and signing autographs. That’s who he was.
“I’ve always thought Cardinal baseball started with him, not just how he was on the field, but off the field, the charity giving, the way he interacted with the community. I know it’s harder for players today to do that, but really just the love he gave to everyone, he treated everyone like family.”
Schwarze said his grandpa told him he would have had well more than the 475 home runs he finished with had the right field wall at Sportsman’s Park not had a 40-foot high screen that kept several balls in play.
Several Musial fans Thursday brought up the same point without being asked.
“It was a shame because they didn’t call him a home run hitter but at the old ballpark they had a big screen up there and Musial hit that screen so many times,” said Sandrowski, who estimated he saw Musial play 50 games late in his career. “He ended up with 475 home runs but those line drives would have been out of all the parks back then.
“They don’t call him a home run hitter but I guarantee you if that screen wasn’t there he would have hit 600 home runs. I remember he hit four doubles off the screen in one game.”
MLB commissioner Bud Selig and several Hall of Famers are expected to be among an impressive list of celebrities scheduled to attend a private funeral for Musial on Saturday. A procession will stop at his statue outside Busch Stadium following the funeral for a prayer ceremony before his burial.
“He really touched millions of people,” his grandson said. “He didn’t live one life. He lived nine lives.”