A statue of Stan Musial from the St. Louis Cardinals sits outside of Busch Stadium before the start of Game Three of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY Sports
Stan Musial was the perfect fit for the city that became his home and the era in which he played.
That's not to say the Hall of Famer known as "The Man,'' who died Saturday at 92, could not have thrived in a different place and time. A career batting average of .331, with 3,630 hits - the second-most ever in the National League - and 475 home runs will play anywhere.
Musial even fares well in a modern-day statistic like wins above replacement (WAR), where his 123.4 mark ranks ninth all-time, a notch ahead of Ted Williams.
But what set him apart from some of the game's greats was the unabashed kindness he displayed during and after his playing days, a quality fully embraced in St. Louis, where he spent his entire 22-year career.
Musial went on to co-own a St. Louis steakhouse, "Stan Musial and Biggie's,'' an ideal setting for a beloved figure who enjoyed the public part of celebrity.
Such a role would not have suited the reclusive Joe DiMaggio, but it was right in Musial's wheelhouse.
"In his business life, in his family life, he was the perfect man for his adopted home of St. Louis, in that when he ran the restaurant, he not only was a good restaurant man - he knew the steaks and he knew the menu - but he was there for people,'' author George Vecsey, who wrote the biography "Stan Musial: An American Life,'' said in an ESPN interview.
"He was also that way with fans. He'd sign autographs until the last person has gone home. Perfect guy for St. Louis, for mid-America, and really for the country.''
Few baseball stars have formed a better marriage with the city in which they played than Musial and St. Louis. Ernie Banks and Chicago come to mind. In more recent years, so do Cal Ripken and Baltimore, as well as Tony Gwynn and San Diego.
The common thread, of course, is not only did all three Hall of Famers play their whole careers with the same team, but they gave back to their cities.
"I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever,'' Willie Mays said of Musial in a statement issued by the Hall of Fame.
Certainly, Musial benefitted from playing at a time when the public scrutiny is not nearly as intense and persistent as these days, when any misstep by an athlete becomes instant fodder for Twitter, TMZ and the 24-hour news cycle.
And yet, other contemporaries didn't evoke the unmitigated affection that St. Louisians expressed for Musial, to the point that not one but two statues of him stand outside Busch Stadium.
Williams kept Boston Red Sox fans at arm's length through his enduring feud with the news media. Mays, sometimes prickly and distant, earned admiration more than love in San Francisco after moving from New York with the Giants. Pete Rose, who reached the majors just as Musial was leaving in 1963, lost advocates in his native Cincinnati through his unsavory behavior and betting scandal.
No hint of scandal was ever attached to Musial, who remained a Cardinals fixture well into his old age.
In reflecting about Musial's career for a documentary, longtime broadcaster and fellow St. Louisian Bob Costas said, "All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being.''
Anybody would be pleased to have those words as their epitaph.
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