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Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 02:54 am

My memories of Musial

Stan Musial, 92, died Jan. 19. I first saw Musial play in person in 1951. I was 9 and he was 30, in his ninth full season with the St. Louis Cardinals. My mom got me interested in baseball and the Cardinals. She was a Musial fan. So was I. He had to be the favorite for most young fans then because he was the best Cardinal. I still have the scorecard from that game. And the ticket stub – section R, row 14, seat 5. He was hitting .381 and batted third behind Red Schoendienst and ahead of Wally Westlake. The date was June 17 and the opponent the Phillies. Springfield’s Robin Roberts started for the Phillies.

My mom kept score. That scorecard, which sold for 10 cents, tells me, in order, Musial struck out, flied out, singled and flied out. Then he led off the 10th inning with a home run to win the game 6-5. Starting in ’54, I saw Musial play every season through ’63, when he retired. I liked to keep records. And they show that he went to bat 115 times in games I saw, collected 44 hits, batted .380 and slammed 7 homers. I saw him at his best, given that his lifetime average was .331. During those years I took photos before games and have several of Musial batting and playing catch near the dugout. In one 1958 photo, No. 19 is in the background – Springfield’s Dick Schofield, who was 22. He was Musial’s teammate for six years.

I also saw Musial in the 1957 All-Star game in St. Louis; he went 1-for-3. What a collection of talent that year – Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Al Kaline, Yogi Berra. The managers were Casey Stengel and Walter Alston.

I first started collecting baseball cards in 1948. A Musial card was what I really wanted. They were very difficult to obtain, especially those put out by Topps. I did not get my first Topps Musial until ’59. (Topps started printing cards in ’51, but Musial would not agree to his card being printed from ’51-’57.) I unwrapped my first Musial cards in ’48, courtesy of Leaf and Bowman. I also have a ’52 Red Man chewing tobacco Musial. I got my last Topps Musial in ’60. (I have seven, and they are safe in a bank lockbox.)

In my early days I sent postcards to Cardinals asking for their autographs. Some players would send 4x6 cards with photos. Some would autograph them personally; some had stamped autographs. I even have one from Bob Gibson. I was thrilled when I received an 8x10 photo from Musial in an envelope. How many players of his caliber would do that today?

I interviewed Musial once – in 1964, the year after he retired at 42. “I think you reach your peak from 28 to 32,” he said. Musial hit .338, .346, .355, .336 and .337 at those ages. He added that one part of his body let him know he was going downhill. “You can tell in your legs. You can’t run as fast. I never did notice much trouble getting around on pitches. Not even last season (his final one). I feel I got the most out of baseball. I’d played for 25 years. I got out at the right time. I think I quit while I was still an asset.” He still hit .300 seven times after ’52.

In 1958, when Musial recorded his 3,000th hit in Wrigley Field, I remember that the train carrying the Cardinals stopped that night in Springfield. I was not there, but fans wanted to congratulate him.

I have one regret involving Musial. After almost three months working for the State Journal-Register, I could have gone to St. Louis to cover Musial’s final game in 1963. Colleague Norm Davis did. I did not and still regret it. I watched the game on TV and still have the scoresheet.

It was sad to see Musial in his final years at Busch Stadium. He had slipped so much physically. But he still wanted to give his fans just what they wanted – memories of him in his productive years.  

Larry Harnly is a retired State Journal-Register sportswriter, having served as sports editor and staff member for a combined 35 years. He covered the Cardinals in six World Series – 1964, ’67, ’68, ’82, ’85 and ’87.
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