A plaque on third base commemorates Stan Musial Day on May 18, 2008 at Busch Stadium - Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
A bad day for icons, as Stan Musial and Earl Weaver both passed away yesterday, robbing the game of two of its most renowned figures. It's the first time Cooperstown has seen two members of the Hall of Fame die on the same day.
Weaver has particular, if second-hand resonance for me, as it was largely through Earl Weaver Baseball that I became entranced by the sport. Many, many are the hours and late nights whiled away in front my housemate Steve's computer, in South London, watching a distinctly lo-res rendition of the game, move jerkily around the screen as my team of curiously-named players [I think it was mostly actors and actresses] strived for victory. Somewhere in a box, I think I still have the dot-matrix printout of the scorecard where one of my batters hit four home-runs in a single contest.
This, I suspect, is not likely to be most people's memories of Weaver [though I do see I'm not the only SB Nation writer with similar memories. He was the ultimate example proving that you don't need to be a great player, in order to be a great manager. Weaver never made it to the big leagues, despite accumulating almost five thousand at-bats in the minors over 14 seasons. However, his .583 winning percentage puts him in the all-time top 10 of those with a thousand games or more at the helm. In 17 seasons as manager of the Orioles, he had a losing record just one: he picked up four pennants and led the team to the World Series win in 1970.
His temper was legendary, and led to his ejection close to a hundred times during his major-league career, a record for the American League. Some of those were almost legendary, such as when Weaver got tossed from a game before it started. One such occurrence came the day after he had been ejected for smoking a cigarette in the dugout. The next day, Weaver delivered the line-up card to the umpires, "smoking" a candy cigarette [anyone under the age of 30 will probably need to ask their parents about those], and was promptly tossed again. There's some glorious footage on Youtube of another Weaver ejection, following a balk. [NSFW: very harsh language!]
But, despite that, he was also well ahead of his time as a manager, making use of statistics to create favorable match-ups, in a way that was rarely seen in the sixties and seventies, and Weaver was a big fan of platoon hitters. He was also not averse to exploiting the rules to his advantage. A streak of games starting with an infamous incident in 1980, where Weaver's listed DH wasn't even in the country at the time, led to a change in the laws of baseball. Rule 6.10(b) now requires that the designated hitter "must come to bat at least one time, unless the opposing club changes pitchers."
Weaver literally wrote the book on strategy. No, really: it's called Weaver on Strategy, and outlines Weaver's approach to the game, which can largely be summarized as, "Pitching, defense and the three-run homer." Always a ferocious opponent of small ball [NSFW: no prizes for guessing why!], he was also no lover of 'productive outs' - as one of his Ten Laws, he said, "Your most precious possessions on offense are your 27 outs." He also stated, "No-one's going to give a damn in July if you lost a game in March." I've a feeling we may revisit that quote quite often, once spring training starts!
"No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today."
-- Ty Cobb
How good was Stan Musial? Three MVP awards. Four times a runner-up. A life-time line of .331/.417/.559 for a .976 OPS - only two qualifying hitters in the majors reached that OPS this season, never mind in their career. And he did not miss an All-Star Game from 1942 through to his retirement in 1963. The only year skipped was 1945, when no game was held - and Musial was serving in the Navy. All told, he appeared in 24 midsummer classics, tied with Willie Mays for the record. If you're doing the math, and wondering how that's possible, it's because there were two All-Star Games played per year, from 1959-62.
Musial spent his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals, piling up 3,630 hits, fourth-most all time, and the most by a player who only played for one team. He originally signed with them as a pitcher, and had a minor-league record of 33-13, with a 3.52 ERA., but was converted into an outfielder before making his debut for St. Louis in September 1941. He was a regular in the Cardinals team that won the World Series the following year, and picked up his first MVP award in 1943. He repeated that victory the season after returning from miltary service, getting 22 of 24 first-place votes.
However, his greatest season may have been 1948, when "Stan the Man" hit .376, and drove in 131 runs, both league-best marks. Musial had a .450 on-base percentage and slugged over .700 - through the 1993 season, that last mark, and the resulting 1.152 OPS, had been achieved only by Musial, Hack Wilson and Rogers Hornsby among qualifying National League batters. He hit for a grand total of 429 bases, a number that has not been seen in the major-leagues since.
Legend has it, if Musial had been credited with a home-run supposedly hit in a rained-out game that year, his forty home-runs would have tied Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner, to make him the last NL batter to accomplish the Triple Crown. However, this appears to be more based in myth than fact. Musial did pitch in the major leagues, facing one batter in the season finale of the 1952 season as a publicity stunt. Starter Harvey Haddix went to right field, allowing Musial to take the mound - opposing hitter Frank Baumholz (the runner-up to Musial for the batting title) reached on an error, but Haddix returned to the mound to get a double-play, and ended up working eight innings.
He reached the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1969, appearing on 93.2% of the ballot. But as great as Musial's numbers were, his character was perhaps even more worthy of respect. He was never ejected from a game, in over three thousand appearances. He wedded his high-school sweetheart, a marriage that lasted over 70 years. In 2011, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian can receive, President Obama calling him "an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate." Speaking today, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt echoed similar sentiments:
"We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family. Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history and one of the best players in the history of baseball... We join fans everywhere in mourning the loss of our dear friend and reflect on how fortunate we all are to have known 'Stan the Man'."