By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Al Lyons said he looked like a kid peeking around a corner to see if the cops were coming. Warren Spahn said that once he timed a pitcher’s fastball the infielders were in jeopardy. Willie Mays said nobody ever had a bad word to say about him.
He gained five pounds in 22 seasons, with vices including an occasional cigar and a can of the Anheuser-Busch product from the company that owned the ball club.
When Stan “the Man” Musial was given a memorial service Thursday at Busch Stadium the tributes were still pouring in from all directions.
The Hall of Famer who was never kicked out of a ball game first played professionally for the Williamson Red Birds after leaving his hometown of Donora, Pa., also the birthplace of Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr.
Mays hit 660 home runs and he and Musial remain the only players to be invited to 24 All Star Games. Musial was the only batter Spahn, who won 363 games including at least 20 in 13 different seasons, ever intentionally walked with the bases loaded.
Musial once hit in 30 straight games, 26 fewer than Joe DiMaggio’s record. He played in 895 consecutive games once — Cal Ripken, Jr. played in 1,737 more in a row. Former Cardinal Rogers Hornsby won two “triple crowns” and Musial won none because a 1948 rain storm cost him a home run.
He went into the Hall of Fame in July 1969 on another blustery day with rain on the horizon. This time, though, the clouds parted and when he took his place on the podium the sun began to shine.
“Dizzy” Dean’s wife noted that was just perfect for the star who never really acted like one. Friends remember how he used to keep a supply of bats and baseballs in the trunk of his car to give away, mostly to children.
His father worked in the mills, could not speak English and had to be persuaded by Mom Musial to let the boy play baseball in place of going to college.
Rather than play in a nearby town, young Stanley Musial opted for the Williamson team in the Class D Mountain State League because it was far enough away from home so that if he didn’t do well it would be less painful.
That league also featured the Welch Miners, Huntington Boosters, Logan Indians, Ashland Colonels, and Bluefield Blue-Grays. Williamson played well enough to win the regular season championship with a 76-51 record, more than four games in front of Welch (72-57) and nine games ahead of Bluefield (65-64).
Musial didn’t disappoint and although not a great pitcher, he showed a strong bat. In the September season finale, Bluefield finished the season with a 10-3 victory over Williamson as player-manager Vic Sorrell, who was a long-time hurler for the Detroit Tigers earlier in his career, picked up the win.
Famed Daily Telegraph sports editor V. L. “Stubby” Currence once referred to the young Williamson standout as “Musical” in his account of the game, and Bluefield went on to win the playoff title over with a decision over Harrisonburg in mid-September 1939, two weeks after the start of World War II.
It was the first season for sparkling new Bowen Field, and a capacity crowd of more than 2,500 fans saw unknown Stan Musial finish his lower minor league career (1-for-4 with an RBI) here in Bluefield.
Within two seasons, he was playing in St. Louis. In three, he was a regular outfielder on the World Series winning Cardinals. Two decades later, he was over the 3,000-hit mark and one of sport’s most admired performers. Musial never forgot starting in Williamson and always remembered playing in Bluefield.
In an exhibition game at Bowen Field several seasons later between the Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, both he and Ted Williams hit home runs across the creek into Lotito Park.
Some called Williams a better hitter but when St. Louis and the Red Sox met in the 1946 World Series, it was Musial’s team that won the title.
Fifty years after his final game, 50 years after getting his last two hits past Cincinnati second baseman Pete Rose, Stan Musial has retired the No. 6 for the last time as the number one Cardinal in every fan’s heart.
Larry Hypes is a true Cardinals fan and a Daily Telegraph columnist.