The major obstacle in Henry Aaron's pursuit of the triple crown in 1957 is one Stan Musial, who won his first batting championship when Aaron was just 4 years old. The year was 1943, and Musial—like Aaron when he got his first batting title last year—was 22.
Now, 14 years and five batting crowns later, Musial is feeling the weight of the years, but at the same time is successfully fighting it. In the month since the All-Star Game, when the sweltering heat of midsummer normally has an enervating effect on 36-year-old ballplayers, Musial's 31 hits, 19 RBIs and four home runs have moved him ahead of Aaron as the National League's leading run producer.
Two months ago, after Musial broke the National League record for consecutive games played, he admitted, "I'm not anxious to keep it going now. I'll sit out a game or two this season, like the second game of a double-header. They tire me out now. My reflexes go and I feel and look tired. So I don't expect to keep it up."
When Musial said that, the Cardinals were in fifth place. Since then, they have moved into the middle of an unbelievable pennant merry-go-round. "This is the most exciting race I've known," now says Musial. "We had some good races with Brooklyn in past years, but nothing like this, where we play a contender every day."
Instead of resting, a visibly tired Musial has played in every game (he did sit out one, but since it was suspended and will be finished next month, he may still get a chance to play in it). "This St. Louis weather, on a long home stand like this one, takes something out of you. I've never liked to play here more than two weeks at a stretch."
National League pitchers may be forgiven for being skeptical about Musial's fatigue. With the temperature in the mid-90s one day last week in St. Louis, Stan hit two home runs and two singles in four at bats, driving in four runs to put the Cardinals in first place for the fourth time this season. Incidental to Musial at the time was the fact that his two home runs had vaulted him past the illustrious Ty Cobb into third place on the alltime list of extra-base hitters. Only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig have had more.
"It isn't that I've found a way to beat the sapping heat out here," Musial said after the game. "I simply got something straightened out. After 15 years in this park I still get anxious to pull the ball here. I take my eye off it, I guess, and begin pulling for that right-field fence. Del Ennis and some of the others watched me and told me what I was doing wrong."
By the end of the week, Musial was still playing every game and the Cardinals had won eight straight and 14 out of their last 17 games.