Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Man

Stan "The Man" Musial was one of the ten best baseball players of all time, the National League's answer to Ted Williams during the 1940s and '50s. While Musial falls short of Williams as a hitter (everyone does), he was unquestionably a superior outfielder and baserunner, not to mention much kinder to St. Lo's fans and press.

Even so, Musial's career lacked the flair of his peers. He didn't make dazzling catches like Willie Mays or hit tape-measure home runs like Mickey Mantle or steal home like Jackie Robinson. He consistently hit for high averages, but never batted .400 like Williams. He swatted 475 home runs, but never topped 40 in any season or led the league in that department. He piled up 3,630 base hits, but couldn't challenge Joe DiMaggio's magical 56-game run.  His teams won three World Series, but he did not shine in the postseason the way October legends Mantle and Reggie Jackson did. Musial batted just .256/.347/.395 with one home run in his 23 Series games. He didn't have a cool nickname like "Joltin' Joe," the "Say Hey Kid" or the "Splendid Splinter."

He was simply "The Man."

It stuck because it fit; his body of work was defined by quiet, sustained excellence. As Joe Posnanski points out, he led the league in something pretty much every year. He showed up to work everyday, played hard, and gave opposing pitchers fits. He aged well, remaining productive to the very end even though his last five seasons represented a considerable drop-off from the 17 eye-popping years that preceded them.

But whereas most players remembered for their consistency (Eddie Murray, Hank Aaron, Fred McGriff) never put together that signature, standout year that jumps off the page, Musial's 1948 remains one of the greatest offensive performances a player ever had. His 10.8 bWAR led the majors that year, as did his 230 base hits, 46 doubles, 18 triples, .376 batting average, .702 slugging percentage, 1.152 OPS, 200 OPS+, 103 extra base hits, and 429 total bases (!), still the record for the integrated era. Musial received a midseason pay-raise for his outstanding performance, something that was virtually unheard of in an era when most players fought tooth and nail for every cent they earned. He recorded his 1,000th career hit in April. He crushed a two-run homer in the All-Star Game. He had five hits in a game on four separate occasions.

He was, in a word, unstoppable.

Musial breezed to his third MVP award, becoming the first National Leaguer to collect a trio of said trophies (Roy Campanella, Mike Schmidt, Barry Bonds, and Albert Pujols later joined him). Somehow, he did not win the award unanimously. Johnny Sain received five first place votes for helping lead the Boston Braves to the NL pennant and Sain's teammate, Al Dark, snagged one for his Rookie of the Year campaign.

Musial fell one home run shy of winning the Triple Crown that year. His 39 dingers placed third behind Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner, who tied for the league lead with 40. Musial would have made it a three-way tie were it not for a rainout erasing one longball from his ledger.

Here are some more fascinating figures:
  • Made 24 consecutive All-Star teams. 
  • Of Musial's 3,630 hits, he pounded out 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road
  • Musial claimed seven batting titles and finished in the top five ten other times. Only Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, and Honus Wagner won more batting crowns
  • The Man was not made of Iron like Cal Ripken Jr. and Lou Gehrig, but he was extremely durable nevertheless. He averaged 153 games played from 1943-to-1956 and led the league in the category five times
  • The writers loved Musial. He received three MVP awards and totaled 6.96 award shares. Barry Bonds (9.30) was the only player to garner more MVP consideration, though Albert Pujols (6.90) is poised to pass Musial soon
  • One truly remarkable stat is that of Musial's 12,717 plate appearances, only 696 ended with strike three. He didn't exceed 40 strike outs in any season prior to his forties
  • Ranks second all-time in total bases and MVP shares, third in doubles, runs created, and extra base hits, and fourth in hits
  • Was fortunate that he only lost one season to World War II. Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller missed nearly four full years.
  • Never won the traditional Triple Crown, but won a pair of sabermetric Triple Crowns by leading the league in the triple slash stats in 1943 and 1948
  • Upon retirement in 1963, Musial held or shared 17 major league records, 29 National League records and 9 All-Star Game records. He was the first player to appear in 1,000 games at two different positions, recording 1,896 in the outfield and 1,016 at first base
  • Made it into the Hall of fame on the first ballot in 1969 (Roy Campanella was also inducted that year) with 93.3 percent of the vote. 23 members of the BBWAA did not believe his career was Cooperstown worthy
  • My personal favorite: Stan Musial was never ejected from a game. Earl Weaver, who I just wrote about, was given the hook at least 91 times

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