The Man

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Stan Musial, the great St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, was close to murderous with a bat in his hand. His fellow Hall of Famer and opposing pitcher Warren Spahn said, “When Musial came up to hit, your infielders were in jeopardy.” He was known as “the Man,” a name given him by groaning Brooklyn fans convinced that whenever the Cardinals took on the Bums, Musial appeared at the plate in every pressure situation. “Oh, no. Here comes that Man again.”

But I remember him as the Man for a different reason.

Nineteen forty-six. Wrigley Field, Chicago. August. Musial and his Cards were in town to play the Cubs. The Cubs had won the pennant the year before with World War Two rejects: youngsters and might-have-beens and old guys who soon went back to running their retirement gas stations. But now the big boys were back from the war, and the Cards were playing hard for big-league stakes, trying to catch the leading Brooklyn Dodgers.

My buddies and I were there early as usual, hanging over the low wall between home and first where we could watch batting practice, pepper games —and beg for autographs. The great Enos Slaughter was playing pepper close by. “Hey, Enos! Sign my scorecard!” No response. “C’mon, Enos! What’re you, stuck up?” No response. Slaughter was a big man. Muscular. Heavy legs. Not a young man. He wouldn’t look at us. He seemed like an old man in a boy’s game (Slaughter was thirty in 1946). He was there for the money, nothing else. Signing autographs wouldn’t get him a World Series check, and he wouldn’t even look around. We got on him with the razz. We started to rhyme Enos with the only rhyme we could think of. It became a chant. Eleven-year-old kids acting stupid. He never looked our way.

But one guy did. And he walked over to us. We knew who he was, and we shut up. It was Stan Musial. He wasn’t as big as Slaughter, but to me he was bigger than God. When he spoke, his voice was as quiet as a man come to pay his respects.

“You boys shouldn’t be yelling at Mr. Slaughter that way. Mr. Slaughter is fighting for a pennant. He’s very tired. We’re all very tired, and we have a lot of work to do. Mr. Slaughter is trying to play baseball. He doesn’t have time to sign for everybody. You boys are fans, you should be able to understand that. Now, if you want an autograph, maybe I could sign one for you. My name is Stan Musial, and I could put that on your scorecards for you, if that would be all right.” It was all right. It was more than all right. It was the Tabernacle. I had Billy Nicholson’s autograph. He led the league in homers in 1943-44. I had Phil Cavaretta’s autograph. He was batting champ in 1945.1 had a lot of names on a lot of pieces of paper. None came close to Stan Musial.

The Cardinals finally beat the Dodgers. Then they beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Slaughter made a throw that’s still shown on film clips of “Great Moments,” and his heavy old legs beat Johnny Pesky’s throw to the plate in what should probably be called “Greater Moments.” Musial did well too. Musial always did well. But it isn’t his play I remember so much now. Now, forty-six years later, that’s reduced to statistics on a cold page. His generous gesture, though, his gesture and the warmth of his words, remain vivid.