paradoxes surround an aging baseball player. He is old but not gray; tired but
not short of breath; slow but not fat as he drives himself down the first base
line. Long after the games, when the old ballplayer thinks seriously, he
realizes that he has become obsolete at an age when most men are still moving
toward their prime in business and, in politics, are being criticized for their
extreme youth. It is a melancholy thing, geriatrics for a 40-year-old.
To Joe DiMaggio,
age meant more injuries and deeper silences. To Bob Feller it meant months of
forced jokes, with nothing to pitch but batting practice. To more fine
ballplayers than anyone has counted age has meant Scotch, bourbon and rye. The
athletes seldom bow out gracefully.
miscellaneous excitements of the current National League pennant race, the most
popular ballplayer of his time is trying desperately to overcome this
tradition. Stanley Frank Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, now 39 and slowed,
intends to end his career with dignity and with base hits. Neither comes easily
to a ballplayer several years past his peak, and so to Musial, a man accustomed
to ease and to humility, this has been a summer of agony and pride.
quiet June evening in Milwaukee when Musial walked toward the batting cage to
hit with the scrubs, dragging his average (.235) behind him. He had been riding
the bench for two weeks.
Out of place
"Hey, what a
funny-looking ballplayer," called Red Schoendienst of the Braves, who was
Musial's roommate on the Cardinals for five years. Musial grinned wide. It was
an old joke between old friends. Then he stood silently among anonymous
second-liners, attempting to act as though he were used to the company.
someone said, while George Crowe, a St. Louis pinch hitter was swinging,
"did you know that Preacher Roe was using a spit ball when he pitched
snapped Musial to life. "Sure," he said, enthusiastically. "We had
a regular signal for it. One day Preacher goes into his motion and Terry Moore,
who's coaching at third, picks off the spitter and gives me the signal.
Preacher knows I've got it, so he doesn't want to throw the spitter. But he's
halfway through his wind-up and all he can change to is a lollipop [nothing
ball]. I hit it into the left-field seats, and I laughed all the way around the
again at the memory, then stepped in to hit. He swung three times but never got
the ball past the batting practice pitcher. A knot of Milwaukee fans jeered as
Musial stepped out of the cage, and the sound, half boos, half yahs, was harsh.
Musial blushed and began talking very quickly about other games against Roe and
the old Brooklyn Dodgers. "Yeah, I could really hit those guys," he
said. It was strange and a little sad to see so great a figure tapping bouncers
to the pitcher and answering boos with remembrances of past home runs.
Why was he doing
it, one wondered. He was long since certain of election to the Baseball Hall of
Fame. He was wealthy, independent of the game. (One friend estimates that
Musial earns $200,000 a year, no more than $80,000 of it directly from the
Cardinals.) He was a man who hid always conducted himself sensibly. Now here
was sensible old Stan Musial reduced to benchwarmer, as he waged a senseless
war with time.