The answer, of
course, is pride; more pride than most of us suspected Musial possessed, more
pride than Musial ever displayed when he was Stan the Man, consistent .350
hitter, owner and proprietor of most National League pitching staffs.
The issues in the
case of Stan Musial versus time have cleared considerably since his May
benching and his dramatic July comeback. He was not through in June as many
suspected but, because Musial is well loved, few put in words. But neither was
he the young Musial in July, as many said loudly, but, I imagine, few really
suspected. Both the benching and the comeback represent skirmishes in the
continuing battle Musial joins each time he puts on a pair of spikes and heads
out toward left field, trotting a shade more slowly than he once did.
After a career in
which he had never batted lower than .310, Musial hit .255 in 1959. Since he
was 38, the wise conclusion was that he was finished, and most baseball men
assumed that he would retire. In fact, most hoped he would choose retirement
instead of the awkward exit that seemed inevitable if he played this season.
"No," Musial insisted during the winter. "I want to go out on a
good year. I'm not quitting after a lousy year like that." Athletes, like
chorus girls, are usually the last to admit that age has affected them, and
Musial appeared to be following the familiar unhappy pattern. His timing seemed
gone—change-ups made him look foolish—and he appeared to be the only man who
didn't know it.
During the winter
Musial enrolled in a physical education program at St. Louis University. The
exercises were orthodox—push-ups and such—but placed emphasis on tumbling.
He arrived in
spring training splendidly conditioned and hit well, if not sensationally,
during exhibition games. For the first three weeks of the regular season he
played first base, batted about .300 and fielded poorly. Then his hitting
dropped sharply, and for the next three weeks his average drifted toward .200.
Finally, on May 27, Solly Hemus, the Cardinal manager, benched Musial. The
decision brought pain to Musial and pain to Hemus, too, since what the manager
did, after all, was bench a legend.
back," Hemus said vaguely to everyone who asked. When? Solly wasn't quite
sure. "I'll play whenever they want me to," Musial said cheerlessly.
But he didn't start another game for almost a month.
Hemus is a
conscientious, combative man of 36, who joined the Cardinals in 1949 when
Musial was already a star, a factor which complicated the usual
manager-ballplayer relationship. "I'd never pulled much," Hemus
recalls, "and when I first came up Stan gave me some tips. He told me to
concentrate on hitting that right-field screen—it's close—at Busch Stadium. I
admired him, and I guess he liked me. It got so that when he'd come home,
Janet, Stan's daughter, wouldn't start by asking if he got any hits. First
she'd say: 'Did Solly get any hits?' "
Musial benching troubles Hemus. He was buffeted somewhat in St. Louis sports
pages for the move, and, beyond that, it strained a friendship. But he talked
about the benching at some length and with tremendous earnestness after one
recent Cardinal night game.
obligation as manager?" Hemus said, staring darkly into a glass of light
beer. "It's not to a friendship, no matter how much I like a guy. My
obligation is to the organization that hired me and to 25 ballplayers. I have
to win. Stan was hurting the club. He wasn't hitting and balls were getting by
him at first base. It wasn't something I wanted to do. I had to do it."
For all his
attempts to show outward indifference, Musial hated the bench. He confided to a
few friends that he wouldn't mind being traded to a club that would play him
every day. A few hints appeared that he and Hemus were feuding. They
weren't—they were just miserable about the situation—but Musial still says, in
the closest he comes to a grumble: "Don't let anyone tell you they were
resting me. I was benched."