The St. Louis Cardinals lost their icon this weekend when Stan "the Man" Musial passed away. While it is a sad day for baseball, it's a great opportunity to remember what it was that made him special.
Today I'm not here to spout numbers and analyze the career of a great baseball man; I'm here to tell what "The Man" meant to me.
As a young boy, both of my grandfathers told me stories of the "good ole days" of baseball. They talked about Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio often, but none as often as Musial.
While I'm far too young to have ever seen Musial play, listening to their stories and looking at their old photographs from Sportsman's Park gave me a serious appreciation for what he meant to each of them.
At seven years, in the 1980s, grandpa gave me a copy of "Stan the Man's Hit Record." The album was released by Phillips 66 and consisted of Musial teaching you how to hit like he did.
Well, I never hit like the Man (or I would be a baseball player instead of a baseball writer), but that album ingrained in me a love for the game at a very young age. Without that album, and my grandfather, most likely I wouldn't be writing this piece right now.
While I didn't have the opportunity to meet Musial, I did have an interesting experience where I learned a lot about him. A reader and friend of mine informed me that one could visit Musial's office to purchase memorabilia, drop off items to be autographed or, if you came at the right time of day, maybe have the opportunity to say hello to Mr. Musial himself.
When a good friend, Jody Waggoner, invited me to go catch a game one afternoon for fun instead of work, I decided that would be a good opportunity to swing by and see if what we had been told was true.
Jody and I set the GPS to the address we had been given. When we arrived at the address, it looked like any of hundreds of office buildings in the city. The only clue that we had found the right place was a car with "STM" license plates.
With a bit of fear, we walked into the building. It didn't look like a place that would be the office home to one of the game's all-time greatest, but it was.
We followed signs down a hallway, the whole time expecting someone to come out and run us off. Finally, we came to a door in the middle of a long hallway. It was nothing suspicious, but said STM, Inc. on the door.
We knocked, but no one came to the door. Moments later a man walked down the hall with a jersey in hand and walked in the office. He offered to check and see if it was ok to come in. We waited for a few moments, fully expecting to be told no.
After a few minutes, a kind, older woman peeked out the door to greet us. She invited us in and, after chatting for the better part of 20 minutes, offered to show us around. As we entered the office where Musial's long time secretary and friend, Pat Anthony, worked, it was quickly apparent that we were surrounded by a shrine of baseball history.
The walls were covered in posters and photographs signed by Musial's contemporaries. Of them all, Ted Williams is the first one that comes to mind. So does Mickey Mantle, who had a special relationship with Musial.
As Jody and I stood in awe of the odds and ends on the walls while Anthony carefully affixed the Musial hologram to the poster I couldn't resist owning, I noticed what became the fondest memory of my trip to Musial's office: a desk.
Sitting on the far side of the office was a metal office desk, but not just any desk. There was a desktop calendar that appeared to have been used to ready countless blue Sharpie markers. In a few places, one could even see where he had sat and scribbled an "S" to make sure it was good to go before he began signing his name to a fan's prized possession. Directly below was a line of those markers.
As we stood there chatting with Ms. Pat, I couldn't help but wonder how many hours he had spent sitting at that desk signing his name for fans, many of whom, like me never had the opportunity to see him play.
The signature wasn't free anymore, and rightly so. It also looks different than it used to. It was less smooth and on the desk you could even see items he had discarded where he felt his signature wasn't clean enough. There were quite a few of those, and while it seems sad, it shows you that even at the ripe age of 92, "The Man" still wanted what he did to be the best.
If a signature wasn't good enough, it was scrapped and he tried again. That frame of mind made him a legend on the baseball diamond and continued until he passed away on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013.
When we were in the office that day, I asked Pat if Stan was available. She smiled and said, "He only comes in for the mornings. He is 92, ya know?"
The fact that at 92 he came to the office at all speaks to his character and how much his fans still meant to him. She said he still enjoyed meeting his fans.
I swore that at the beginning of the season I would get back in, just because I wanted to the opportunity to meet the man who had meant so much to my grandfathers, and now me.
Sadly, that day won't come.
While he won't ride around the warning track again on Opening Day in the red coat reserved for Cardinals Hall of Famers, his presence at Busch Stadium will never be gone. My last memory of Musial was seeing him ride out and mimic his own batting stance with a big smile. While he wasn't at his physical best, seeing that smile and unorthodox batting stance showed how much he still loved the game and that so many people still cared for him.
Thank you, Stan, for what you brought to the game, the city and the people who knew you well -- and thanks for sparking the flame in my heart that made me love this game, too.
Batter up, Stan Musial. You will be dearly missed, but never forgotten.