|The front page of Sunday's|
St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"How good was Stan Musial? Good enough to take your breath away."
Stan Musial, who died Saturday afternoon at age 92, was baseball's forgotten superstar, at least outside St. Louis. When MLB created its All-Century team at the turn of the millennium, the fans left Musial off the list. (It wasn't the single dumbest outcome of the fan vote -- that would be the exclusion of Honus Wagner -- but it was a prime piece of ignorance in action anyway.)
But it's not surprising that Musial's memory faded over the decades since he left the playing field. Musial, Bill James once wrote, "was never colorful, never much of an interview. He makes a better statue."
There is now a consensus that Ted Williams, Musial's contemporary, was the greater player. Williams' superiority wasn't obvious at the time, and I don't think it's true.
As I see it, there are four contenders for the title of "greatest left fielder ever" -- granting that outfielders play left field because they lack the arm or speed to play center or right. Those four are Williams, Musial, Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson.
You can argue for any of them and I won't criticize you. But given my choice, I'll take Musial. I'll certainly take Musial over Williams in the field, on the bases and in the clubhouse -- and while Williams was the greater hitter, Musial could hit too.
To be sure, labeling Musial a left fielder is a bit dicey. He started, according to his Baseball Reference page, 989 games at first base in his 22-year major league career, 868 games in left, 680 in right and even 305 in center. For some reason, probably that he was a left fielder during the run of World Series appearances he made with the Cardinals in the 1940s, he's remembered more as a left fielder than a first baseman.
That BR page is quite the sight to behold, by the way. Every year seems to be the same -- 30 to 50 doubles, 10 to 20 triples, 20 to 30 homers, .330 averages or higher. And never as many as 50 strikeouts. So consistent, so durable, so dependable. No color, no flash -- just line drives in the gaps, and the sprint for the extra base.
A pair of worthwhile links about Musial for your perusal, in case you haven't seen them:
Joe Posnanski's remembrance: "(T)hat's how Stan Musial became known as 'Stan the Man.' After that, all he had to do was spend the next 67 or so years living up to the name."
Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Musial became a Cardinal in 1941 and always was a Cardinal. In many ways, he was the Cardinals."