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Fifty per cent of present-day baseball players are known to the trade as "guess hitters"—that is, they attempt, by judging the situation and the pitcher, to anticipate the sort of throw which will be made to the plate. Applied with shrewdness this system can pay off, but the man who guesses wrong is usually off balance and completely out of luck. Musial never tries to outguess a pitcher. He can watch the ball until it is halfway to the plate, decide in the split second remaining to him whether he is getting a curve, a slider, fast ball, knuckler or changeup, whether the ball will be in the strike zone or out, and still find time to swing if he wishes.
"You get to know pitchers," he says, "and they have different sets of speeds. I can just about tell what's coming after it's thrown. I can have trouble with a pitcher who really has a change of pace. But most of them don't, so the odds are with me. A fast ball seems to jump up a little after it leaves the pitcher's hand. A curve doesn't. I never commit myself until I'm sure. I have to concentrate at the plate; I figure that if I misjudge 20 pitches a year I can ruin my batting average. But you can't think, you just react." Cardinal Manager Fred Hutchinson, a former pitcher, believes that Musial and also Ted Williams have something extra—a sixth sense, compounded of guile and experience, which is close to mind-reading. "They know—Musial seems to anyhow—what the pitcher is throwing. They couldn't tell you how; it's probably just some little thing about how the pitcher moves, but they know."
A printer's nightmare of records
In his years with the Cardinals, Musial has filled baseball's statistical histories with a printer's nightmare of batting records. In the late '40s, when the Cardinals played a tight, defensive, low-scoring sort of game, his marvelous consistency at the plate made him a tremendous asset; when the Cardinals began playing for the big inning, he became, almost without effort, one of the great home run hitters of the game. No. 21 of his innumerable league records reads: "Most home runs, double-header. Five. May 2, 1954." Musial is proud of that but for an odd reason—he hit the fourth one off a knuckle ball, a rare feat of timing.
He has earned fame, wealth and good will with his bat—but also with his innate good sense, restraint and balance. Despite his enormous individual gifts he has never ceased to be a team player and has never allowed himself the luxury of temperament. He has, in fact, never argued with an umpire—although, on those rare occasions when he turns and stares in silent accusation at the man behind the plate, the effect is thunderous. He is not just a baseball player in St. Louis; he is also a leading citizen. And on the $80,000 a year the Cardinals pay him he has made himself independent financially.
He owns a half interest (bought for $25,000 back in 1949) in what many consider St. Louis' best restaurant; he now nets, by informed estimates, $40,000 a year from it. With his partner Julius (Biggie) Garaghani, a shrewd, gravel-voiced, tireless entrepreneur, he invests in stock, real estate and other enterprises promising capital gain; he is a principal stockholder and a director in the suburban Brentwood Bank. In none of these ventures does he pretend to be an expert, but in all he maintains the right of veto; his associates are often startled by the sound reasoning which prompts him to refuse investment proposals.
Musial drives a Cadillac, lives in a rambling $50,000 red brick home in outlying St. Louis Hills and sends his three children—Dick, 17, a promising prep school football player, Geraldine, 13, and Janet, 8—to Catholic private schools. He hunts ducks in the off season and attends innumerable civic and charitable dinners and meetings. It is the sort of existence which might well bank the competitive fires and blunt the athletic prowess of most men of 37. Not so Musial—he still burns to win.
"I'm a big leaguer," he says. "That's the big charge in my life." This year, he had to be. He suffered a ruinous muscle injury and massive internal hemorrhaging deep in the lower back, at Cincinnati on the first day of the season; when he went to the dressing room after the game the outer muscles were "in spasm"—bunched up hard as ridged wood—and he could hardly move. Cardinal brass, including General Manager Frank Lane, stood around the rubbing table looking at this hideous spectacle like brokers watching the ticker during a market crash. Musial reassured them as Trainer Robert Bauman sprayed him with a thin stream of freezing ethyl chloride to shock and relax the hardened tissues. The Cardinals were rained out the next day, but on the night following, Musial, bandaged like a mummy, was in the lineup.
In late August, at Philadelphia, however, he was so badly hurt that he had to leave the field for the first time in five years. He swung hard at a wide pitch to protect a man going to second on the hit-and-run and yanked his upper left arm out of his left shoulder, fractured the bone of the shoulder socket and tore most of the heavy muscles over both collarbone and shoulder blade. He was out for 20 days—although he went in three times during that period as a pinch hitter. He could not throw the ball—but, after noting that his replacement at first base did not have to throw once in seven days, he argued his way back to active duty. "I just punched the ball," he says, deprecatingly. But in 30 times at bat he got 16 hits—six of them doubles.
"He had muscle spasm again over the shoulder blade, too," says Trainer Bauman. "It stuck up like a hot dog under the skin. And there was a definite fracture—a crack—of the bone around the socket. I worked on him twice a day with ultrasonic treatments. But when he started playing again he kept hurting those muscles. They went into spasm four or five different times. But Stan's a tough fellow. He can stand pain—pain that would make most men fold up. I guess it's those people he comes from—they had to be tough. And he's just got to play; some days I'd try to talk him out of it. He'd go in anyhow. He's great—the greatest I'll ever see and that's for sure."