Editorial notebook: My man Stan
Pity the poor American sports fan. He’s weary. Acclaimed cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping and lying. A Notre Dame football star, Manti Te’o, said his dead girlfriend was neither dead nor real. Sports writers voted no one into the Baseball Hall of Fame for 2013 because the top candidates were either admitted steroid users or tainted by accusations of using performance-enhancing drugs.

And then came Saturday.

Stanley Frank Musial, bless his now-departed soul, passed away on the same day as Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. Musial was 92 and suffered from Alzheimer’s. As an unabashed St. Louis Cardinals fan, I can’t summon words strong enough to describe how important Stan the Man is to fans of the Redbirds — or to devotees of the national pastime’s glory years. To longtime Alabama Crimson Tide disciples, the best comparison I can offer is to recall the gut punch felt when Paul “Bear” Bryant died in 1983, the legend forever silenced.

As a player, Musial is effortlessly memorialized: that odd, but sweet, left-handed swing; his 24 All-Star Game appearances; his uncanny ability to hit any pitcher, in any stadium, in any situation. Until the day he retired in 1963, he was consistently the best hitter in the National League, if not all of the Major Leagues. For most of his career, Musial played in the game’s westernmost outpost, and through the wonders of fuzzy AM radio signals he became the idol of countless boys throughout the South.

Meh, as hipsters say today.

As sad as I am about Musial’s death, I am heartened by the juxtaposition of Stan the Man with today’s Armstrongs and Te’os and the others who lower us into a morass of misdeeds and ego. Musial was the Pennsylvania son of Polish immigrants whose talent was overshadowed by only one trait: his character.

For two days, his death has reminded us how rare are people who seem preordained to bring joy into the lives of those they meet. That is Musial’s legacy: a gentleman who never met a stranger, who never shunned another, who is remembered as much for his influence on people as he is for dominating his game with such God-given ease. That I was fortunate to shake his hand nearly 40 years ago is a cherished memory.

Stan was the Man because he graced his adoring public with a biblical essence of treating others as we’d like to be treated. To borrow from the late Jack Buck, that’s a winner.

— Phillip Tutor
© 2013