As a New Yorker in the 1980s, my first exposure to Stan Musial was ironically from Ralph Kiner, who brought him in the booth to play the harmonica. As a rabid young baseball fan, I read history books and saw that Stan The Man Musial was in the same class (if not better) than the more recognizable names that WWOR, WPIX, WFAN, and the NY newspapers reminisced about.
With New York being the media capital of the world, naturally names like Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and at the time Don Mattingly had legendary status. Even Boston icon Ted Williams was mentioned in the same breath or had equal coverage, while Musial was not covered, and when he was, he was pitched as a “local act” in St. Louis, and somewhat of a consistent singles hitter, a la Tony Gwynn or Ware Boggs, when if fact, he was so much more.
Here are some reasons that I believe explain why Stan Musial was overrated in the NY media:
- The New York bias. If you don’t have a New York baseball uniform on, you are seen as the enemy or not being challenged in the big spotlight. This is a self-important, self imposed arrogance by the reporters and journalists. St. Louis has never been covered in NY. There is a subtle jealousy, considering St. Louis is another baseball town, and it could be argued that its fans are more knowledgeable and at least more fair and rational than the NY mutants.
- Musial retired from baseball. The baseball publications during Musial’s era (1941-1963) are loaded with articles proclaiming Musial’s greatness, no doubt. Yet after a successful yet short run as General Manager, Musial was DONE with baseball and decided to focus on family and his restaurant, and rightfully so [he was a loyal husband for 72 glorious years]. Therefore his 1970s to 1980s run was private, and then he reemerged with his harmonica in the 1990s and performed it at public baseball gatherings and taught people how to play it. Compare his actual retirement to guys who can’t give it up and are constantly in our faces and covered by the media, like Don Zimmer, Joe Torre, and Tommy LaSorda.
- Musial was an outstanding citizen. Because he wasn’t controversial, was beloved by St. Louis fans, and was scandal-free (by all accounts, he was a saint and never ejected from a ballgame) the NY media had no “story” since trash sells (see Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, A-Rod, Bobby Bonilla, Darryl Strawberry, etc.)
- Musial wasn’t in the 500 HR club, which gets a lot of press. Yet he hit 475 HRs and missed time due to World War II, and still compiled 3630 hits with a .331 career batting average.
As caretakers of public knowledge, here are some quotes by Bob Costas and Mike Lupica:
“He didn’t hit a homer in his last at-bat; he hit a single. He didn’t hit in 56 straight games. He married his high school sweetheart and stayed married to her. … All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.” – Bob Costas
Although this sounds on the surface to be a great tribute, it treats him as a “nice guy” who was consistent. Usually when we hear that, the player’s isn’t Hall of Fame worthy. In reality, Musial is a Top 10 baseball player of all time, and an argument could be made that he’s #2 to Babe Ruth. The fact that a single should symbolize a HR hitter (again, he would have hit closer to 500 or perhaps 500 if he had been in WWII) would have never been used to describe other power/contact hitters.
At his eulogy, Costas mused: “He might have faded from appreciation nationally, but that only increased the attachment regionally…”
“It is not enough to say he was their DiMaggio in St. Louis, because that is too limiting, because Stan (The Man) Musial never just belonged to St. Louis. He belonged to the whole middle of the country the way the Cardinals always did.” – Lupica
And yet this tribute is also limiting. Musial should have belonged to the entire nation, not just the “middle of the country”.
“He is still one of the best baseball players of all time. And still not included often enough in the conversation about the very best players of all time. Maybe there has been a lack of appreciation for Musial in New York, and LosAngeles, all the big cities in baseball, cities that had teams when Musial played and the ones that have them now.”
MAYBE? No, DEFINITELY a lack of appreciation and conversation from people like you, Mike.
Costas is doing a Stan Musial tribute on MLB Network now. Too late, Bob.
RIP Stan Musial.
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