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Deep in their inner fiber Americans still remember the vanished frontier, and measure their heroes against its hard and simple attitudes; the leathery "old pro" rather than the dashing amateur is the real beau ideal of U.S. sport. He is held no less a gentleman for being a mercenary. The fact that he is paid to play is simply taken as proof of superiority, evidence that he will stand firm—sagacious, contemptuous of pressure, immensely competent and as coolly realistic as Kit Carson himself—when the Indians attack in the fourth quarter or the ninth inning. The Sportsman of the Year for 1957 is a grand professional: Stanley Frank Musial, bright, particular star of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In his 17 years with St. Louis, quiet, handsome Stan Musial has proved himself—with Ruth, Cobb, Hornsby, Wagner and Speaker—one of the genuinely great hitters in the history of baseball. He has been one of the most durable of players as well. Between Opening Day 1952 and last August 22, he took part in 895 consecutive games, the National League record. But adversity is the test of a man's quality. Musial, now 37, was hurt this year—so badly hurt in August that he was out of the game for 20 days. Nevertheless, he won the National League batting championship with a dazzling .351, and in September, during the Cardinals' breathtaking pennant race with Milwaukee, he went into the lineup with a fractured shoulder and for two astonishing weeks averaged .500.
In choosing Musial as a successor to England's Roger Bannister (1954), Brooklyn's Pitcher Johnny Podres (1955) and Olympic Sprinter Bobby Morrow of Texas (1956) it was impossible to overlook his constancy (7 batting championships) over the long pull. But he is truly the Sportsman of 1957—his performance in last summer's grueling National League race has seldom been matched for valor, dedication and brilliant achievement in the face of odds.
It was a baseball year. The national game, shadowed in 1956 by the excitement attendant upon the Melbourne Olympics, once more arrested the nation's full attention as the Milwaukee Braves battled their way to Yankee Stadium and won the world championship. Musial was hard pressed by other baseball men, none of whom performed more magnificently than Ted Williams, the moodily individualistic batting genius of the Boston Red Sox. Williams, too, has long since proved himself one of the great hitters, and last summer, at 39, as he edged past 26-year-old Mickey Mantle for the American League batting championship, he contrived, singlehandedly, the only real excitement in a pennant race dominated by the New York Yankees. But the season's most sensational feat of derring-do was, without question, Lew Burdette's triple pitching triumph in the World Series, its most heart-warming comeback the emergence of Washington's Roy Sievers as a home run hitter, after a drastic operation for a crippled shoulder.
Professional boxing was dominated by two men—Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio—and in their stirring 15 rounds of battle at Yankee Stadium, Basilio, the lionhearted welterweight, beat Robinson and became the middleweight champion. Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson, whose two fights were made against lackluster opponents, perforce sank into a sort of eclipse in 1957, but Basilio, an honest, brave and dignified man, proved once again that professional boxing is deserving of an honorable place in the world of sport.
The 1957 football season, both professional and collegiate, tended to dramatize the undramatic fact that individual football stars, in this day of complex team endeavor, are increasingly rare. Some sensational football players performed, among them John Crow of Texas A&M, Bob Anderson of Army, Ned Oldham of Navy, Johnny Unitas, quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, and Cleveland's hard-running rookie of the year, Jimmy Brown. But the one big news story of the season could be summed up in four words—Notre Dame beat Oklahoma—and the year's one vastly sentimentalized hero was not a player (Dick Lynch made the historic touchdown for Notre Dame, Nick Pietrosante threw the historic block) but Coach Terry Brennan.
A great many agile young men of track and field seemed to relax, somewhat, after their exertions at Melbourne, but the milers continued their grueling feats. Ron Delany of Ireland and Villanova University was unbeaten in the indoor season; Don Bowden of the University of California finally proved that an American could break four minutes, too; and England's Derek Ibbotson erased John Landy's 3:58 world record by turning four laps in 3:57.2 at London. A pole vaulter, however, must be considered the year's most brilliant performer: Bob Gutowski of California's Occidental College broke Cornelius Warmerdam's 15-year-old record by reaching 15 feet 9� inches.
International tennis' first Negro star, Althea Gibson, the gangling girl from the streets of Harlem, burst up to the heights at last by winning at both Wimbledon and Forest Hills. Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics went right on being the world's best basketball player; Dick Mayer of La Jolla, Calif., made himself paramount chieftain of golf by beating Cary Middlecoff in the U.S. Open and Sam Snead in the Tarn O'Shanter. Juan Manuel Fangio, although hotly pursued by England's nerveless little Stirling Moss, remained the master of Grand Prix racing.
There were new and thrilling assaults on the "water barrier." Britain's Donald Campbell pushed his jet-powered Bluebird II past his old world record and set a new one of 239.07 miles an hour on England's Coniston Water. California's Jack Regas, managed a feat fully as difficult by driving Henry Kaiser's Gold Cup boat, Hawaii Kai III, almost 200 miles an hour—194.649 to be exact—on Seattle's Lake Washington. Meanwhile Henry Sears, Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, almost singlehandedly assured revival of yachting's most splendid competition, the ancient and honorable race for the America's Cup.
It was an impressive list of people and an impressive record of accomplishment. But, in 1957, as indeed in all his years with the Cardinals, Stanley Musial was more than an extremely talented baseball player. Good sportsmanship is a phrase which has come to be spoken almost sardonically in some quarters in the U.S.—an unfortunate reaction to a problem in semantics, and an inaccurate one to boot. The ideals of sportsmanship to which the average American gives reluctant lip service are considerably different, it is true, than those in which he instinctively believes. But such idealism—though it is in need of definition—continues to be the very foundation of American sport, and no man has exemplified it more laudably than Musial.