The "Man" a Hero to Many

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The date was July 28, 1957. The setting was historic Sportsman's Park on the north side of St. Louis. The focus, as always for lifelong Cardinal fans, was Stan "The Man" Musial.

This is a case where the internet does indeed prove to be a fascinating knowledge tool. That's because it allowed me to pinpoint the date when my Dad took me to St. Louis (from our home in Parkin, Ark., where he served as football-basketball coach) to see our beloved Cardinals.

I was like thousands of kids (young and old) who tuned in the radio on a regular basis to hear the St. Louis Cardinals broadcasts and the idea of actually going to see the team play live, and get a chance to see Stan Musial play was thrilling.

I know the date is correct because I was able to look it up on Baseball Almanac, which amazingly features the box scores of thousands of Major League games.

It was a doubleheader at Sportsman's Park, originally built in 1867. For a time it served as the home field for both the Cardinals and the American League St. Louis Browns. In a touch of irony (the Cards eventually won the battle for fans and forced the Browns out of town) the National League team actually rented the field for their games from their American counterparts.

The first game of the twinbill was an amazing contest in that 18-year-old Von McDaniel fired a one-hitter against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. He struck out four and walked none. It was the rookie season for McDaniel, younger brother of Lindy McDaniel, who also pitched for the Cardinals and enjoyed a 21-year Major League career. Northeast Arkansan Wally Moon had three hits in the game.

The younger McDaniel was a sensation who exploded on the baseball scene, pitching a two-hit shutout in his first game. The opponent was the vaunted Brooklyn Dodgers. He finished 7-5 for the season, but a promising career was cut short the following year when he developed wildness and was shipped to the minor leagues, never to return to the big time.

St. Louis won the second game 9-8 in 11 innings as Musial had two hits in five plate appearances.

It is amazing how one's recollections can be so vivid where certain events are concerned. Though it was more than half a century ago, certain aspects of that trip with my Dad are seared into my mind. The father-son relationship can be so powerful, in this case a vivid lifetime memory of fun and carefree days on a baseball trip to see your favorite team and your childhood sports hero.

A great man died this week with the passing of Stan Musial. He was one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. The only players who had a career .330 batting average and 475 homeruns are Ruth, Gehrig, Williams and Musial -- how's that for being in select company? He also was revered off the field, especially in St. Louis, where he always will be remembered at The Greatest Cardinal Ever.

The news of his death hit hard. It's tough to see the great ones pass on. But there always will be great memories of his trademark corkscrew batting stance and all the fun and excitement associated with his career and his 22 years with the Cardinals. He certainly provided a lot of inspiration to one young Arkansas boy, especially on a baseball trip that many years later still seems perfect in every way.