For whatever reason, the elevator specifically earmarked for use for the media took forever to reach our floor. In a rush to get to the clubhouse level at Busch Stadium during the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, patience was wearing thin.
After all, myself and a bunch of other media types had to get from the press box high above the ballpark to the basement level in order to hear what Roy Halladay had to say. Sure, Halladay had been the starting pitcher for the American League in the 2009 Midsummer Classic, but it was assumed his days of pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays were quickly coming to an end. Philadelphia, Boston or New York seemed like the logical places for him to land, but in order to hear his thoughts on his future we had to get downstairs.
Instead, we waited.
Finally, after the shifting from one foot to the other more than outlived its novelty, the elevator door opened and with it our collective impatience and frustration melted away as if it were a block of ice beneath a blow torch.
There on the elevator was The Man himself, Stan Musial, sitting quietly in a wheelchair in the corner. Guiding the contraption was Musial’s wife of 69 years, Lillian, who was chatting away with her fellow passengers as we boarded for the short trip down. Mrs. Musial was as noisy as her husband was tired and quiet, busily making sure everyone had received the card she was handing out.
“Hi. Hello. Did you get one of these? Make sure everyone gets one.”
It wasn’t until I got off the elevator that I realized that I had been handed a postcard with a color photo of Musial in his Cardinals uniform on the front with a biography and list of career highlights on the back. There was something else on the front, too. With blue marker, the autograph “Stan Musial” was written across the card.
Yeah, that’s right… Stan Musial, via his wife, gave me his autograph. Call it pre-emptive autographing. Climb aboard an elevator and be handed a postcard bearing the signature of not only one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, but also, as of today, a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner.
Musial, the 90-year-old, sweet-swinging lefty and the best player out of Donora, Pa. (Ken Griffey Jr. is second), received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, Tuesday. Also receiving the honor was Bill Russell, the famous Celtics center/humanitarian as well as Maya Angelou, Jasper Johns, congressman John Lewis, Warren Buffett, Yo-Yo Ma and former president George H.W. Bush.
Musial and Russell join Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Henry Aaron and Buck O'Neil as the only athletes to receive the Medal of Freedom.
Regardless, even though Musial was as well regarded and revered in St. Louis, as a ballplayer he is underrated.
Yep, Stan Musial, the great Stan The Man, was the most underrated player in Major League Baseball history. That’s right.
Sure, it’s tough to slip under the radar with 3,630 hits, 475 homers and a .331 lifetime batting average, but that’s where we’re going with this. Until Pete Rose came along, Musial had the record for most hits in the National League. Better yet, he was deemed worthy of several pages in Roger Kahn’s quintessential baseball masterpiece, The Boys of Summer, as the most perfect hitter to step foot inside of Ebbets Field. To read Kahn’s prose on Musial is to view the ballplayer as an artist.