Yesterday, the news spread quickly in St. Louis that Stan Musial had passed away. The greatest Cardinal to ever wear the birds on the bat, Musial meant more to this city than any athlete has ever meant to any city, with the only exception I can possibly think of being Magic Johnson—someone who played his entire career with one team, defined success, and adopted that team’s town as his own, helping to make it a better place both during his athletic career and afterwards.
There will be many tributes to Stan the Man, and they will likely be more eloquent than this one. They’ll talk about his exploits on the field, exploits I never saw because they occurred well before my birth. They’ll talk about how much he was as good a man off the field as on, how much he contributed to the Cardinals organization, mentoring young players, inspiring them, how much he did for the city of St. Louis, the city that became his home.
How much he did for this city, and the baseball fans in it, can likely never be measured in full. Many St. Louisans have their own Stan the Man stories, and those little stories hopefully can help to illustrate how cool a guy he really was. It’s not big or important, but here’s mine.
During college, I worked at the Schnuck’s (local grocery chain, for those outside of the St. Louis area) in Kirkwood, one of the inner suburbs of St. Louis. Stan Musial happened to live nearby, and this was the grocery store where he did his shopping. He’d pop in once every couple of weeks, chat with everyone who worked there, flirt with the gals in his charming old man way, and, for some reason, buy $20 worth of Powerball tickets. I guess even the greatest players in baseball history want to win the lottery.
I happened to work in the video section, which meant I also manned the counter for lottery ticket sales (your guess is as good as mine why). One Saturday, Stan came in and made his first stop at the lottery counter, saying hello to Karen, my coworker, who he knew by name having come in many times before. I introduced myself to him and probably tripped over my words a dozen times before telling him I’d grown up a Cardinals fan and my grandfather who was from Montana had also been a Cards fan because of Dizzy Dean and Stan the Man. He, as he often did for one or two employees when he came in, autographed a $20 bill and folded it into a ring to wear, and gave it to me. He bought his Powerball tickets and went on his way through the store.
After I was done talking to Stan, a guy and his son, probably about eight, came up to the counter with videos to rent. The dad told his son, who was wearing a Cardinals cap, that I had just been talking to Stan Musial, and the eight-year-old’s jaw dropped. Even an eight-year-old Cardinals fan in the early 2000s knew who Stan the Man was, and was awed by his presence. I said the kid should go talk to him, he’s nice and he won’t mind, he’ll enjoy talking to you, but he was too shy.
Then, the thought occurred to me that the autographed $20 that Stan had given to me would mean a lot more to this kid than it would to me, and I decided to give it to him. The dad kept telling me I didn’t have to do that, but I wanted to. The kid put the ring on and his face lit up. It felt like the coolest thing I’d ever done, and it was because of Stan the Man, probably the coolest person I’ve ever met, that I got to feel that way, and I still do, thinking of that story.
There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of stories like mine about Stan Musial, from St. Louisans of all ages. That’s why a whole city is mourning his loss. He wasn’t just a ballplayer, he wasn’t just a great ballplayer. He was the greatest St. Louisan, and embodied everything this town should strive to be. That’s why I’m sad, very sad, but I’m smiling as I remember him today.