This past Saturday evening -- one of the all-time great baseball players and people left for Heaven...
St. Louis Cardinal's great and Hall of Famer -- Stan Musial, passed away at the age of 92. Now, many baseball fans can recite Musial's life-time statistics -- but, many probably don't know that Stan's son, Dick Musial, is a 1962 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.
I learned yesterday from one of my colleagues at Notre Dame -- Brian Dean '87 -- that Stan Musial was his dad's boyhood idol. Brian then shared with me a copy of a letter his dad had just forwarded him -- a letter he had written to his hero upon learning of his death...
I was so taken by the letter that I asked Brian for his dad's permission (Tom Dean pictured above), to share this letter "from one Notre Dame dad (Tom Dean) to another (Stan Musial)" on the ND GO IRISH BLOG. As you'll see below, Tom was kind enough to allow me to publish his letter to Stan...
Subject:Say It Ain't So, Stan
C’mon now, it can’t be. All the news stations and
internet blogs are saying you died today. Say it ain’t so, Stan. Not my
boyhood hero. Not the guy I tried to copy when I played first base for my
grade school baseball team. Every time I took the field I imagined I was
wearing number 6 on the back of a scratchy woolen shirt with the StMM on the
front. (That stood for St. Mary Magdalen and we didn’t have numbers.) I
was left-handed just like you, Stan, so I thought that would help me snag
throws from 3rd or Short. Of course, a lot of them just scooted on by me
and I had to run red-faced to the fence by the railroad tracks to retrieve the
ball then turn and try to get it back to the infield before the runner got an
“insider.” You’d never let that happen, Stan. You could catch
anything the Redbird infield threw at you.
But it was watching you at the plate that was my real
inspiration. There you’d stand, all twisted up like a watch spring ready
to cut loose...your feet together at the back of the box, knees slightly bent.
You held the bat back, a little high and perpendicular to the ground while you
hunched forward with your eyes staring intently at the motion of the guy on the
mound. And when the ball left his hand, you’d tense a little and then
uncork that stance, stepping into the pitch with your right foot as the bat
came around with such speed that only slow-motion movie cameras could see
it. It was the darndest batting stance anyone had ever seen and it has
never been duplicated since. That didn’t stop me or almost any St. Louis
kid who idolized you by trying to copy it in sandlot or even organized youth
baseball. Our coaches would go crazy trying to convince us that only you
could hit from that position but we’d ignore them and go right on striking out
time after time. How many times would I slink back to the bench, dragging the
bat on the ground behind me, shaking my head and trying to figure out why it
worked for you but not for me? I remember on a couple of occasions I’d
think I had it figured out. “Oh no. I forgot the wiggle!” The
wiggle. That was the crowning move you’d make just before the first
pitch. As the pitcher went into his wind-up, you’d wiggle your hips just a
little. When asked why you did it, I remember you saying that it helped you
I couldn’t make it out to Sportsman’s Park very often to
actually watch you play, Stan. But when my dad or my uncle came up with
tickets, I’d have trouble sleeping the night before anticipating the next day’s
streetcar ride to the park, getting off at Grand and Dodier on the North Side
where we’d make our way through the crowds heading for one of the entrances or
to the ticket windows. I can still hear the shouts of program vendors:
“Programs! Get yur Cardinal programs here! A scorecard in every copy! Only 25
cents! Programs!” I don’t think we ever bought one because the scorecards
that were sold inside the park were only a dime.
If we got there early enough, we’d make it to our seats
while you were still taking batting practice and I’d lean forward and watch you
in the batting cage, trying to memorize every motion. (“Yeah, that’s it.
I’m not raising my right elbow enough. I’ll do that at my next game and
see what happens. Hmm. I’d better practice that home-run trot
And those broadcasts with Harry Caray and “the Old Sarge”
Gabby Street (a former catcher and Cardinals manager) are among my favorite
memories of growing up in St. Louis. Harry loved you, Stan. He used to
drive listeners nuts by coming up with those “scenarios” that involved you and
what you would do to change the course of a game. They went something like
this: “Cards are down a run here in the bottom of the 9th with Schoendienst
leading off. If Red can get on, that’ll give Walker the chance to bunt him over
so that The Man can bust one onto Grand Avenue.” And you know what,
Stan? Harry was right a lot of the time!
I’m sitting here tonight, 66 years later, gently holding a
Spalding “Official National League” baseball inscribed “To Tommy Dean, Best
Wishes.” There are fading ink signatures all over it, signatures of men mostly
gone ahead of you Stan. There’s Whitey Kurowski, the third basemen who
presented me with my very own Spalding first baseman’s mitt, known as “The
Claw.” It was a special gift at a 1948 night game I went to with my Uncle
Vince Kerwin who’d arranged the presentation because he did Whitey’s taxes each
year. Other names like Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Joe Garigiola, Howie
Pollet, Marty Marion, and Harry “The Cat” Brecheen are also there. But
the only name that ever meant anything to me is right above “Country” Slaughter’s.
Your signature was as unique as your batting stance and it’s the one I’ve been
showing to friends and family since the day I got if from, yes, Uncle Vince. It
isn’t dated but I think it's from the ‘47 or ‘48 team.
When my wife, Marge, and I lived in St. Louis in 1963, I was
shocked to learn that she didn’t know much about baseball. So on our 2nd
wedding anniversary, I took her to your restaurant, Musial and Biggies, on
Oakland Avenue. After dinner, we headed for the ballpark where the Cards
were playing the Giants. Juan Marichal was on the mound for San Francisco
and I think you guys beat him that night. Being there seemed to light a
spark in Marge because from then on, she became an avid Cardinal fan with
special attention being paid to you for being a legend and to Tim McCarver whom
she thought was “cute.” One day, Marge came home from the beauty parlor
and proudly announced that she had sat under a hair dryer right next to your
wife, Lillian. We also would see you and her together at Sunday mass at St.
Gabriel’s church and would get a kick out of watching visiting congregants
who’d suddenly recognize you when you’d return to the pew after Holy
Also on the desk in front of me is a St. Louis Cardinals
scorecard dated September 29, 1963. Marge found it recently in a stack of old
papers so I put it in special envelope along with a color photo of you that was
given out that day. I’m sure you’ve remembered that date right up to
today, Stan. It was your last game and I’d somehow finagled a couple of
tickets. It was a Sunday afternoon game and we knew that traffic and parking
would be a huge problem so we took the bus. On the way there, I bored
Marge to death talking about those streetcar rides (they tore up the tracks in
the 50s) but when we arrived at the park, she got into the swing of things
experiencing the still-there program vendors and the smell of hot dogs and
Our seats were left field, upper deck – a long way away but
the important thing to us was, we were there. We were going to see baseball
history unfold in front of our very eyes that day. The Reds were in town and
when the line-ups were announced over the PA, the mention of your name as the
starting left fielder triggered a roar that seemed to last a very long time.
Your teammates that day included Curt Flood, Julian Javier, Ken Boyer, Bill
White, and on the mound, a guy named Bob Gibson. The Reds roster was no walk in
the park either. Pete Rose was at second and hit leadoff. Vada Pinson
played Center. In left field was Frank Robinson, while Leo Cardenas was the
Marge had learned how to keep score – probably from her
mother, Marjorie – and according to the notations she made on the card that
day, you went two-for-three which, according to Google, was exactly the same
result you had on your first day with the Cardinals in 1942. In the seventh
inning, manager Johnny Keane pulled you from the game. I’m sure it was a
plan pre-approved by you but to those of us in the stands, it was punch in the
gut and we all let Johnny know how we felt about it with several minutes of
standing boos and catcalls. A woman next to me was crying and pounding me
on the arm yelling, “Why are they taking him out? Why? Why?!!” That
arm was sore for days. But in the end, we all knew it was over.
Marge apparently knew it too because there’s no more scoring on the card from
the bottom of the 7th on. I have no idea what the final score was.
At the end of the game, there was a ceremony at home plate
with all your teammates, family, friends, Cardinal executives, and Hall of Fame
guests surrounding you. None of the Cincinnati players went to their clubhouse
but stood and watched respectfully from the visitors’ dugout. Harry Caray came
down from the broadcast booth to emcee the event. The team gave you a
ring that Harry described as a black precious stone imbedded with diamonds in
the shape of the number 6. You gave a nice speech, thanking everyone,
especially we St. Louis fans. That brought us to our feet and the cheers
could be heard for miles around old Sportsman’s Park. I don’t think I
cried but I’m pretty sure there was a lump in my throat all the way home.
Over the years, I’d see pictures of you at Cooperstown
installations, at Cardinal World Series games, and other baseball events. The
last time I saw you was about a year ago when you received the Medal of Freedom
from President Obama in the White House. You looked pretty frail, Stan,
and it hurt to see that you needed assistance in standing for the
presentation. But you made it to 92 and that’s probably par for the
course for tough Pennsylvania Polish guys like you. So I’m going to say a
prayer before bed tonight, asking God to fold you into His loving arms and asking
you to look back and pray for people like Marge and me whom you left
behind...grieving our loss but smiling at the memories you gave us.
Oh, and when the angels ask you to show them how you did it,
don’t forget the wiggle.