Stan Musial did everything well on the baseball field. Over 22 seasons Musial hit .331 and was a 20-time All-Star. He had speed (177 triples) and power (475 home runs) and ended his career with a tidy 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 at home. Off the field, he was famous for his accessibility, harmonica playing and corny magic tricks. Given Musial's accomplishments, commissioner Bud Selig was mortified when a 1999 fan poll didn't include Musial as one of the 25 best players of all time. This oversight is at the heart of George Vecsey's fastidiously researched new biography, Stan Musial: An American Life, which gives a rich glimpse behind the cheerful facade.
Vecsey's clear-eyed prose hints at nostalgia without becoming maudlin as he presents Musial as the quintessential Eisenhower-era star: the approachable guy next door, not at all like the petulant Ted Williams or the icy Joe DiMaggio. Though Musial's persona was not inflated by the New York publicity machine, it was the Brooklyn fans who dubbed him Stan the Man. Yet St. Louis proved to be the ideal city for him; he was protected and nurtured there by a sense of civic pride from fans and writers alike.
Vecsey paints as complex a portrait as possible of a man whose defining characteristics were generosity and decency. He writes about Musial's campaigning for John F. Kennedy and his quiet but steadfast support of integration. Musial was also a shrewd businessman who had more success after his playing career than most of his contemporaries.
Musial's lack of controversy may explain why his fame has ebbed compared with that of Williams or DiMaggio, but as Vecsey's book proves, being neglected by history is as much a part of the Musial narrative as all the hits and handshakes. Still, one gets the sense that it doesn't really matter to the Man himself, who turned 90 last November. "There are a few people in the world who love being themselves," said former major league manager Jim Frey. "I think Stan Musial is one of them."