Stan Musial: Great Catholic American

Book: Stan Musial: An American Life by George Vecsey

Method: Read library copy

What I got from the book:

  • The word nice is essential to understanding who Stan Musial was.
  • The book cloth color is Cardinal Red, naturally. The dust jacket is bathed in red, white and blue with a picture of a young Musial at the end of his swing. Perfect. A tip of the cap to book designer Jo Anne Metsch.  Book typeface is Caledonia, designed in 1939 by William Addison Dwiggins for the Merganthaler Linotype Company. Hey, my Dad was a printer, this stuff matters.
  • The style of the book is anecdotal. It has 47 chapters and 337 written pages, 397 in total. Some of the chapters are only a few pages long. Given that, I fully expected the chapters and pages numbers to have some connection to Musial’s stats. They don’t, or I couldn’t decipher it. Look, his lifetime average was 331. Jus saying …. Am I alone on this one?
  • This was the 1st sentence, which recounted when Vescey first saw Musial in St. Petersburg in 1960: “We drove straight through the night, married only a few months, on spring break, our first vacation together. Like Bonnie and Clyde, we had the feeling of putting something over on every body, Every mile we traveled south of Baltimore was the farthest I had ever been from New York. We were twenty-one.”
  • Reminded of one of the the greatest stats in MLB history. Musial struck out only 696 times while hitting 475 home runs, “an astounding ratio.” DiMaggio actually excelled him in that one area, hitting 361 home runs with only 369 strikeouts.
  • Stan is really Stanislaus. In 1910 Musial’s Polish father, Lukasz, sailed out of the Elbe River and arrived at Ellis Island six days later and then immediately settled in Donora PA, 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, because of work at a mill. It was a close-knit, 6 kids, but poor family. The men from the mill all drank. Vescey treads lightly on how that might have affected the young Musical.

  • Donora’s history involves George Washington and Andrew Mellon. Buddy Griffey, father of Ken Senior and grandfather to Ken Junior, was a teammate on the high school baseball and basketball teams. Musial and Junior share a birthday, Nov 21.
  • In the spring of 1941 in Hollywood FL beginning his 4th year of  pro ball, Burt “Barney” Shotton recommended that his sore-armed pitcher try to make it as an outfielder.  He would be the National League MVP in 1943.
  • St Louis was the 7th largest city in the U.S. in 1940. By 2000, it was 53rd.
  • The day after the Cardinals won game 7 of the 1946 World Series, Musial was part of a barnstorming tour organized by Bob Feller between white major-leaguers and the Satchel Paige all-stars from the Negro League. A players union was soon to come.
  • For spring training in 1947, Branch Rickey took the Dodgers and their Montreal affiliate to Cuba since they were used to seeing blacks and whites playing ball together. Musial would later barnstorm through Cuba with Cardinals coach Mike Gonzalez.
  • June 1952 – A black pitcher named Joe Black is on the mound for the Dodgers facing Stan Musial. A heckler yells, “Hey Stan, you shouldn’t have any trouble hitting with that big black background.” Jackie Robinson runs over to Black and says, “That was sorta funny, wasn’t it?”
  • Musial was part of an interesting group who toured together campaigning for Kennedy in the fall of 1960. They included James Michener, Arthur Schlesinger and Angie Dickinson. Dickinson relayed anecdote. Teammate feeling very good tells Musical, “I feel like going 4 for 4 today.” Musial replied, “Hell, I feel that way every day.”
  • Musial developed a great friendship with Michener. Their Polish background and fame were the main things they had in common.  Michener was friends with another self-made Polish success story, Edward Piszek, who made millions with Mrs. Paul Fish Sticks. Piszek was friends with another son of Polish immigrants, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, John Krol.
  • Musial accompanied Piszek on trips to Poland in 1970 and 1976. Both times they met the archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyla.  Piszek was a huge financial supporter of clerics in Poland under communism and a personal fan of Wojtyla early on, telling Michener, “Keep your eye on that one.  He could go far. He has the guts of steel.  He’s been on the front-line battle since the age of six.”
  • Vescey describing the confluence of events which improbably [providentially?] swept up a tight-knit group of Catholic Polish-American friends during August 1978:

At a press conference of the North American Cardinals at the Vatican, I heard Cardinal Kroll say how delighted he was that the Holy Spirit chosen the new pope, which is what all cardinals say after a conclave. Then Krol volunteered that he had also been highly impressed with the cardinal from Kraków, Karol Wojtyla…. So the Polish American cardinal from Philadelphia put out an unusual tribute to the Polish cardinal from Kraków. One month later Luciani [Pope Paul I] died suddenly forcing a second conclave.

  • In 1988, Michener was invited to give a talk in Poland and brought along Piszek, Musial and their families. The trip included a visit to the Maddanek concentration camp and watching a historic debate involving Lech Walesa in the home of the archbishop of Warsaw. On their way home, they stopped in Rome for a dinner with Pope John Paul II and a private Mass the following next morning at 5:30am. As they prepared to enter the Pope’s private chapel, Musial was recognized by some American priests.  Musial delighted the priests by telling them, “I’m entitled to be here because I’m also a Cardinal.”
  • In 1998 Musial would get to meet John Paul II again when the Pope stopped in St. Louis for a 2 day visit on his way back from a trip to Mexico.
  • Michener died in 1997. Piszek in 2004 and the Pope passed in 2005.
  • At the 2009 All-Star game held in St. Louis, there was a touching picture of Pujols adjusting the jacket of Musial, who now has Alzheimer’s. Here is what Vescey has to say about Albert Pujols: “…Pujols [was] caring for Musial, deferring to him, not because time was on his side but because grace was in his soul.”

Hat tip to great friend and Cardinal lifer Santos Perez. He’s like Musial in the most important way.

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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