"I didn't ask him for it or anything," Hummel says. "I just took the ball and looked at him and thanked him. And he went on like nothing happened."
Hummel smiles like a little kid. "I know exactly where that baseball is," he says.
In St. Louis they remember Musial daily. There probably is not an athlete in America more closely tied to a city than Musial is to St. Louis. And it isn't all nostalgia. He's still a very real part of Cardinals baseball. "In this modern era of baseball we emulate Stan's values and loyalty, not only to the Cardinals but also to our city and region," Cardinals general manager John Mozellak says, and player after player, fan after fan, reiterates the thought. St. Louis parents—themselves too young to remember Musial as a player—pass along the stories.
Musial still goes to the Stan the Man Inc. office daily to sign a few autographs. He doesn't show up in public much, though. "Stan is slowing down," a close friend says. He spends his time now helping Lil and having quiet lunches with his best friends. Nobody denies that he is not always himself, but they all say that when the baseball talk starts, the years will melt away, and Musial will look and sound like the old days.
He doesn't come around the ballpark much. He was there for Opening Day, of course—Musial will not miss Opening Day—and the hope around here is that the Cardinals will make the playoffs so that Musial might come around again. "I never worry about Stan when he's around baseball," Hummel says. "It's the off-season that makes me worry."
Even now, when a bit of his youth comes blowing through, Musial will pull out the harmonica and play one of his songs. He can still pull out one of his favorite jokes—like the one he told Pujols about how he has a three-handicap in golf, the three handicaps being his driving, his irons and his putting. He can still fold a dollar bill into a ring. What does it say about Stan Musial that he learned that particular trick, worked on it, perfected it?
"He loves making people happy," Zitzmann says. Yes. That's what it says. Maybe there have been a handful of better ballplayers. Maybe there have been a handful of more important baseball players. Maybe there have even been a handful of more memorable players. But no baseball player, none, worked so hard to make people happy. He hit the ball hard into the gaps, ran hard out of the box, signed every autograph, shook every hand and turned dollar bills into memories. And, all the while, he kept telling us that he was the lucky one. Whaddya say!
Now on SI.com
For a photo gallery of Stan Musial's career through the years, go to SI.com/photos