Another Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, Joe Black, told me a story once. We were sitting next to each other on a plane when, unprompted, he simply started telling it. He was pitching against the Cardinals—this was 1952, his rookie year, his best year. Black had come out of the Negro leagues, and he was young, and he pitched fearlessly. A voice boomed from the St. Louis dugout while he was pitching to Musial.
"Don't worry, Stan," that someone from the Cardinals' dugout had yelled. "With that dark background on the mound, you shouldn't have any problem hitting the ball."
Musial did not show any reaction at all. He never did when he hit. He simply spat on the ground and got into his famous peekaboo batting stance—the one that Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons said "looked like a small boy looking around a corner to see if the cops are coming"—and he flied out. After the game, when Black was in the clubhouse, he looked up and saw Stan Musial.
"I'm sorry that happened," Black remembered Musial whispering. "But don't you worry about it. You're a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games."
Yes, Joe Black told the story often—and it's a good story. But what I remember about the way he told it on the plane that day was how proud Black was to be connected to Musial. This is the common theme when people tell their Musial stories. No one tries to make Musial larger than life—he was only as large as life. He just believed that every man had the right to be treated with dignity.
Musial believed in being a role model. He thought that was part of his job, part of why he was being paid so much money. Musial smoked for a long time—he even advertised Chesterfields when he was young. But when he realized how he might be influencing kids, he quit the Chesterfield job and, shortly after that, quit smoking. In the interim he smoked under stairwells so nobody would see him.
He would never allow photographers to snap him in the clubhouse without his shirt. Teammates and opponents say they would occasionally hear him swear but certainly not where fans could hear him. The same goes with drinking—he might have had a couple here and there, but Stan Musial would never allow himself to be seen tipsy in public. He has been married to that high school sweetheart, Lil, for seven decades now.
In 1958 he became the first player in National League history to make $100,000 in a year. The next year he had his worst season—he hit only .255 and missed 40 games with nagging injuries. He went to Cardinals management and insisted they cut his salary by the maximum 20% (which they did). Years later, when asked about that move, Musial said simply, "I had a lousy year. I didn't deserve the money."
STAN MUSIAL AND ALBERT PUJOLS WERE having their photo taken together to lead into the 2008 All-Star Game at Busch. It was a monumental moment for a couple of reasons. One was obvious: Here were two generations coming together, two of the best hitters in baseball history in the same place at the same time. They even shared a nickname. They called Albert Pujols El Hombre—Spanish for The Man. The other reason was something more poignant. Stan the Man doesn't get around much anymore.