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Oral history about overlooked living legend Musial

Oral history about overlooked living legend Musial

"Stan Musial: An American Life" (Ballantine Books/ESPN Books), by George Vecsey

May 14th, 2011 by ANN LEVIN, For The Associated Press in News

In 22 seasons, Stan Musial had a career batting average of .331, hit 475 home runs, compiled 3,630 career hits, was three times the National League's Most Valuable Player and retired with 17 major league records. Yet his remarkable accomplishments have been overshadowed by those of the other two great hitters of his era, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.

George Vecsey, a longtime sportswriter for The New York Times, decided it was time to pay proper tribute to the great St. Louis Cardinal, who captured his heart at the tender age of 7 even though Musial played against his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.

Vecsey cites former players and baseball mavens who contend that despite his being underrated or overlooked in recent polls and statistical rankings, Musial was arguably the second-best player of all time, after Babe Ruth. Why, then, did fans voting for the top 25 players of the 20th century in 1999 elevate Mark McGwire and ignore Stan the Man?

Vecsey believes there are several reasons, including Musial's exemplary, Norman Rockwell sort of life. He had one wife, played for one team, lived about a thousand miles from the media capital of the world and did not behave like a lout on or off the field, as so many talented athletes did and still do. His image also may have faded after his 1963 retirement because he came to epitomize the values of Eisenhower-era America, when baseball may actually have been the national pastime.

Now 90 and suffering from Alzheimer's, Musial was born in Donora, Pa., a steel mill town about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh in the Monongahela River Valley. His Polish father - who called him Stashu, short for Stanislaus - enrolled him in the Falcons athletic club, where he exhibited the natural athleticism that would propel him into Major League Baseball and beyond.

A superstar in his own time, Musial campaigned for John F. Kennedy, befriended the writer James A. Michener, had private audiences with Pope John Paul II and, just this year, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Barack Obama called him "a gentleman you would want your kids to emulate."

Vecsey's exhaustively researched book, "Stan Musial: An American Life," winningly captures the essence of this son of the Depression; it is also filled with yearning for an earlier, perhaps better, time in sports: before steroids and showboating athletes, when the boys of summer traveled to games by train and the World Series ended in mid-October.