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"Well," Musial said, "there's nothing you can do about it."
And without saying another word, Musial stepped back into the batter's box and doubled to the same spot in right field. This time it was called fair. The Cardinals rallied and won the game.
Musial was famous for signing autographs. So many Musial stories revolve around his seemingly boundless willingness to give people his signature. The old Cardinals announcer Harry Caray used to tell a story of a Sunday doubleheader in the St. Louis heat and humidity. Musial played both games, of course—in the 11 seasons after he returned from World War II, Musial averaged 153.5 games per 154-game season. And after the nightcap, Caray said, Musial looked as if he had been through a prizefight. In those days they still called boxing matches prizefights.
When the second game ended, Musial stumbled out to the parking lot. He barely looked strong enough to stand. And there, at his car, he found dozens of fans waiting, hoping, shouting, "Stan! Stan the Man!" Caray turned to the person next to him and said, "Watch this." And together they watched Stan Musial walk up to the group and shout out his trademark "Whaddya say! Whaddya say! Whaddya say!" And he signed every single autograph.
Musial grew up the fifth of six kids in a five-room house in Donora, Pa., a hardscrabble town built around the U.S. Steel Zinc Works factory that pumped black smoke into the sky. Musial would always believe that that black smoke killed his father, Lukasz, a zinc worker who died in 1948. Stan himself worked at the Zinc Works one summer—just long enough to know he never wanted to work there again. Our games overflow with athletes who feel lucky and blessed because they escaped the hard destiny that seemed inescapable when they were young. But it's as though Musial felt luckier and more blessed, as though he spent every waking moment fully aware of the good fortune in his life. Sometimes when he was out with his wife, Lil, people would ask for autographs at inopportune times, and Lil would suggest he politely decline. "These are my fans," Stan would say, lovingly but firmly, and sign them all. Teammates used to bet each other how often they would hear Musial use the word wonderful on any given day.
Robin Roberts, the late Hall of Fame pitcher, was once talking about a modern-day player he saw walk past a young boy who desperately wanted an autograph. Roberts was too polite to name the player, but he did not hide his contempt.
"Now, to me, that's one thing that really has changed," Roberts said. "There's so much money in the game now.... Players don't see themselves as part of the crowd now. They're separated. They're big stars. I know it's more of a business now. But I'll tell you this: In our day you didn't walk by a kid who wanted an autograph."
Then, Roberts shrugged: "I probably shouldn't be so hard on the guy. I'm sure over the years I probably missed a few kids. I don't remember doing it, but I'm sure I disappointed someone. None of us are perfect. We all disappointed someone from time to time. I guess. Well, all of us except one."
"Who was that?" I asked. Roberts looked at me with surprise, as if he thought the answer was obvious. Finally he answered.
"Musial," he said.