Baseball Short Story
The Greatest Cardinal of Them All
"Player of the 1940s Decade: Stan Musial," St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Yearbook
The episodes that mark Stan Musial's performance in the 1940s have filled many pages in many books. He wasn't just the player of the decade for the Cardinals, he was the player of the decade in the National League, and arguably in all of baseball.
How he got to be that player was somewhat remarkable. Musial was a hard-throwing lefthanded pitcher growing up in Donora, Pa., so gifted that at 14, he was recruited to play for the semipro Donora Zincs. Standing all of 5-foot-4 and 140 pounds, Musial struck out 13 adult batters in his six-inning debut.
No question, Musial could throw hard. He just couldn't be certain where the ball was going. Michael Duda, who coached Musial in his only season of high school baseball at Donora High, recalled the quandary.
"The problem with him as a schoolboy pitcher was we couldn't find anyone who could catch him," Duda said. "He might strike out 18 men, but half of them would get to first on dropped third strikes."
The good news: Musial had a knack for hitting, too. During that same season at Donora High, he batted. 455 and led the school to the Mon Valley High School championship. Passing up a possible scholarship to play basketball at the University of Pittsburgh, Musial signed a Class D contract with the Cardinals before the 1938 season.
In his organizational report on Musial, scout Andrew French wrote: "ARM? ... Good. FIELDING? ... Good. SPEED? ... Fast. Good curve ball. Green Kid. PROSPECT NOW? ... No. PROSPECT LATER? ... Yes."
But Musial's transition from suspect to prospect - to Hall of Fame - would include a dramatic change of direction, a shift that blossomed in the 1940s, and began by fate.

L-R: Young Stan Musial at Rochester; Stan and Lillian with their son Dick;
One of the most iconic stances in baseball history.
Musial was still considered a pitcher by trade in 1940, and seemed to be progressing in Class D Daytona Beach. Manager Dickie Kerr was employing Musial as an outfielder on days he wasn't pitching, an approach that was working well as Musial won 18 games and batted over .300. But in August, Musial was playing in the outfield and hurt his left shoulder diving for a ball.
It was a bad break, probably the best bad break in the history of the franchise. His career as a pitcher would soon be over, and he was not disappointed. "More and more, I wanted to be a hitter," Musial said years later.
The die, which would be underlined by 3,630 career hits, was cast. During the same season in which Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games and Ted Williams batted .406, Stan Musial the hitter was born. In 1941, a 20-year-old Musial batted .379 at Class C Springfield, .326 at Class AA Rochester, and finally .426 in 12 late-season games in St. Louis.
During that September promotion, the Cardinals played a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs in which Musial played left field in the first game and right field in the nightcap. In the first game, he made two diving catches, threw out a runner at the plate and collected four hits. In the nightcap, he stroked two more hits and made two more notable catches. Afterward, Chicago manager Jimmie Wilson offered, "Nobody can be that good. Nobody."
But Musial was just getting started.
Over the rest of the decade, Musial became the first player in baseball history to win three MVP awards and assumed his place as the National League's dominant gene. He won three batting titles and led the Cardinals to four World Series appearances (1942, '43, '44 and '46) in five years. In fact, the only year the club missed a pennant during that stretch - second-place in 1945 - Musial missed the season serving in the Navy.
From 1942 through '49, baseball's "perfect warrior" batted .346 with a .427 on-base percentage and .578 slugging average. He averaged 21 homers, 43 doubles, 100 RBIs and led the league in triples four times, and in doubles and hits five times.
"You could scout Musial by the sound of the ball hitting the bat," former teammate Joe Garagiola said. "You didn't even have to watch him."
You didn't have to watch him, no. But you couldn't help but watch him. While DiMaggio dated Hollywood starlets and Williams fought battles with the press, Musial was to baseball what Andy was to Mayberry. He married his high school sweetheart, signed countless autographs and represented wholesome values of his Midwestern surroundings.
"I remember one spring training I caught him entering the hotel lobby at 7 a.m.," recalled Kerr. "I thought he'd been out all night roaming the town. When I asked him about it, he said, 'No, sir. I'm coming back from morning Mass.'"
Bouts with appendicitis and tonsillitis pulled Musial down in 1947, as he "slumped" to a .312 average. He was determined to bounce back in 1948 and changed his batting approach to hit for more power. The result was one of the greatest seasons ever registered by a big-league player.
His .376 average won the batting title by 43 points. His .702 slugging average topped the category by 138 points. His 131 RBIs led the league, too, while his home run total (39) fell on shy of Ralph Kiner's and Johnny Mize's 40, denying Musial the Triple Crown. It was the only meaningful offensive category in which Musial did not rank first.
Perhaps one game in '48 best underscores the zone in which Musial was operating. The Cardinals were clinging to their pennant hopes when they faced the first-place Boston Braves on Sept. 22 and Stan was dealing with two swollen wrists. Carefully picking his spots, he took only five swings that game. And he went 5-for-5 with a home run, double and two RBIs. It was his fourth five-hit game of the season, tying a record set by Ty Cobb 26 years earlier.
The Cardinals didn't catch the Braves that season (not for lack of effort by Musial, who hit .443 against them in 22 games), and they finished one game behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949. A remarkable decade in Cardinals baseball had come to an end, but the legend of "Stan the Man" was just beginning.