January 26, 2013 – A True Hero

I begin this week’s blog with some apprehension.  We of course know that last Saturday legend and icon Stan Musial passed away.  I am sure that I could easily write a large synopsis of any one of many facets of his life, but there has been so much material already written throughout the week I’m not sure if I have anything meaningful to add to it.  Also, I somewhat regret last week’s blog in which I put my spotlight on two athletes who have not had many proud moments lately.  Why did I spend my efforts on what they did and instead tell of the exploits of someone like Stan Musial who is such a positive role model for all of us?  But being a huge Cardinal fan my whole life, I at least know the history and level of admiration we have for “The Man”, so I’ll share my feelings about his life and influence, even if what I have to say mirrors so much of what already has been written.

The greatness of Musial as a ballplayer is certainly well-documented, although many people would tell you that he should get even more recognition that he has, particularly away from the U.S.  He started in the minor leagues as a pitcher and outfielder, but a shoulder injury ended his pitching career.  He considered leaving baseball in 1940, saying that he, his wife and child could not make a living on the $16 per week he was making.  But minor-league manager Dickie Kerr talked him out of it, and even took the Musials into his own home to relieve the financial burden, and the rest is history, so they say.  To repay the debt Musial bought Kerr a $20,000 home in Houston in 1958.  His numbers would have been even more impressive had he played in 1945, but like many players, he spent that year in service in the Navy. He began the 1947 season by hitting .146 in April. On May 9, the team doctor confirmed a previous diagnosis of appendicitis, while discovering that he was also suffering from tonsilitis.  He received treatment, but did not have either his appendix or tonsils surgically removed until after the season ended. Despite his health woes, he finished the year with a batting average of .312.

He was one of the first players to earn $100,000 in a year (doesn’t that seem paltry now), but after the 1959 season when he hit just .255, he took a pay cut back to $80,000.  Imagine a player in this era accepting a 20% CUT in salary. At the time of his retirement, Musial held or shared 17 major league records, and 9 All-Star Game records.  Among those records, he ranked as the major league career leader in extra-base hits (1,377) and total bases (6,134).  He also held NL career marks in categories such as hits (3,630), games played (3,026), doubles, and RBI’s (1,951).  He finished his career with 475 home runs despite never having led the NL in the category.  He would likely have exceeded 500 home runs and become the second player, after Babe Ruth, with 2,000 RBIs had he not served in the military.  His career hit total was evenly split between 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road, and it is possible that without military service he might have continued playing to attempt to exceed Ty Cobb’s career hit record.  He was also the first major league player to appear in more than 1,000 games at two different positions, registering 1,896 games in the outfield and 1,016 at first base.

No matter what numbers you throw out there, however, they will never be as impressive as the greatness he showed as a human being. In the late ’40s, when African-Americans were slowly being integrated into baseball, Musial – along with his roommate Red Schoendienst – were praised for their tolerance. Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe said: “They never…had the need to sit in the dugout and call a black guy a bunch of names, because he was trying to change the game and make it what it should have been in the first place, a game for all people.”  In his 3,026 major league appearances, he was never ejected from a game.  Remarkable.

As I’m sure you have heard throughout the week, Musial was a devout Catholic.  He and Red Scheondienst attended daily Mass regularly, even on game days.  He once told Catholic News Service that he didn’t see anything wrong with athletes making the Sign of the Cross during a game, as long as they were sincere.  When it was pointed out that he never did that, he said “I found a better way a long time ago.  Every day that I possibly can I go to Mass and Communion.  There I make my Morning Offering and that way you can even turn an error into a prayer.”  About 10 years ago, when his wife of almost 72 years began having difficulty walking, he would bring her to church himself along with her wheelchair so they could still attend Mass together.  He had contact with Popes, especially Pope John Paul II who was of Polish heritage, and he said that one of the thrills of his life was having dinner with JPII at the Vatican.

In our society today it seems hard to find true heroes.  There are plenty out there – people who run food pantries, firefighters and policemen who risk their lives every day, our military fighting in combat, and many more.  However, they do not get as much publicity as people whose only priority is becoming famous – people who will do whatever it takes to become famous, whether its right or wrong.  We in this area are fortunate to have someone like Stan Musial to look up to, and its up to us to let people know that there are many other Stan Musials among us who do not get the recognition they deserve.

One group who deserves recognition are those who continue to work so hard to maintain our school – Fr. Gene, Janelle Robinson, our teachers, staff, volunteers, school board, parents, grandparents, benefactors, and of course our students!  As we begin Catholic Schools Week and our 150th anniversary year of the founding of our school, let us praise God for the tremendous tradition of education that He has bestowed on us, and let us make sure that these folks know how appreciated they are.

Have a great week!  Peace.


One Response to “January 26, 2013 – A True Hero”

  1. Fr. Gene Says:

    Thank you for the moving tribute to “Stan the Man”. It was wonderfully written and captured the essence of one pf america’s greatest baseball heroes.

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