As Mama gingerly placed a plate of fried chicken on the table, Johnny Antonelli laid a slow curve across the plate at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And as I reached out to grab the drumstick, Stan Musial uncoiled from his familiar corkscrew stance and lashed Antonelli's delivery over the rightfield pavilion for a home run. It was Sunday, May 2, 1954, and Harry (Holy Cow) Caray was broadcasting the first game of a doubleheader with the Giants over KWHN in Fort Smith, Ark. It was a day to remember—25 seasons ago.
"Did you hear that? Stan the Man hit a home run!" I announced through a mouthful of chicken.
"Yeah," said Daddy, "and listen to ol' Harry now."
"Holy cow," we said, mimicking Harry in unison.
After our usual Sunday dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans, Daddy would lie in bed, puffing occasionally on a Prince Albert roll-your-own and listening to Caray in distant St. Louis describe the exploits of Stanley Frank Musial.
The Man was a legendary figure in our part of the country in 1954. He had already won the batting title six times and had been MVP three times. But such honors were not the only reasons that Stan was our Man. We kept in touch with the world through him. Musial was, I felt, my personal representative in faraway, mysterious regions like Philadelphia, Chicago and that ultimate, unfathomable place, New York.
I had never seen a major league ballplayer and didn't consider that fact unusual. Those other places, those other people, those other kids had the boys of summer, They had Hodges. They had Snider. They had Mantle and the Empire State Building. Bostonians had Ted Williams and Paul Revere and the entire Revolutionary War. And what did kids in Arkansas have? Revivals. The county fair. The Ozarks. And, by adoption, Stan the Man, our only person, institution, phenomenon or product that was superior to what they had. The Man was ours, mine, and he was the greatest.
It rained very hard early that day, and there wasn't any batting practice. I never felt too good about playing a game without looking at a few balls in the strike zone, so, naturally, I was a little uneasy about hitting that day. Antonelli was a very good fastball pitcher and had a good curve to go with it. I was just trying to meet the ball, figuring Yd be a little unsure. He came in with a curve and I tried to swing level. I always hit off the fastball—I mean, I was set up for the fastball, then I could adjust to the slower speeds. I swung easy and level and happened to hit it good, and it went out. That was the first one of the day.
By the fifth inning, Mama had the dishes washed and had put baby sister down for a nap. Then she tried to get a little sleep, too. My brother David was hitting rocks out of the driveway with a sawed-off broomstick. Daddy dozed in his undershirt, but kept one ear on the radio. I was on the front porch when the Man came up in the fifth.
The Giant pitchers never gave me the same pitch twice. Teams pitched differently to every player, and the Giants had the idea that I should never see the same pitch twice in a row. Antonelli was working me in that manner. Schoendienst was on, and Antonelli threw me a fastball, about the only one I saw all day. I took a good level swing at the ball and—