Deep in their inner fiber Americans still remember the vanished frontier, and measure their heroes against its hard and simple attitudes; the leathery "old pro" rather than the dashing amateur is the real beau ideal of U.S. sport. He is held no less a gentleman for being a mercenary. The fact that he is paid to play is simply taken as proof of superiority, evidence that he will stand firm—sagacious, contemptuous of pressure, immensely competent and as coolly realistic as Kit Carson himself—when the Indians attack in the fourth quarter or the ninth inning. The Sportsman of the Year for 1957 is a grand professional: Stanley Frank Musial, bright, particular star of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In his 17 years with St. Louis, quiet, handsome Stan Musial has proved himself—with Ruth, Cobb, Hornsby, Wagner and Speaker—one of the genuinely great hitters in the history of baseball. He has been one of the most durable of players as well. Between Opening Day 1952 and last August 22, he took part in 895 consecutive games, the National League record. But adversity is the test of a man's quality. Musial, now 37, was hurt this year—so badly hurt in August that he was out of the game for 20 days. Nevertheless, he won the National League batting championship with a dazzling .351, and in September, during the Cardinals' breathtaking pennant race with Milwaukee, he went into the lineup with a fractured shoulder and for two astonishing weeks averaged .500.
In choosing Musial as a successor to England's Roger Bannister (1954), Brooklyn's Pitcher Johnny Podres (1955) and Olympic Sprinter Bobby Morrow of Texas (1956) it was impossible to overlook his constancy (7 batting championships) over the long pull. But he is truly the Sportsman of 1957—his performance in last summer's grueling National League race has seldom been matched for valor, dedication and brilliant achievement in the face of odds.
It was a baseball year. The national game, shadowed in 1956 by the excitement attendant upon the Melbourne Olympics, once more arrested the nation's full attention as the Milwaukee Braves battled their way to Yankee Stadium and won the world championship. Musial was hard pressed by other baseball men, none of whom performed more magnificently than Ted Williams, the moodily individualistic batting genius of the Boston Red Sox. Williams, too, has long since proved himself one of the great hitters, and last summer, at 39, as he edged past 26-year-old Mickey Mantle for the American League batting championship, he contrived, singlehandedly, the only real excitement in a pennant race dominated by the New York Yankees. But the season's most sensational feat of derring-do was, without question, Lew Burdette's triple pitching triumph in the World Series, its most heart-warming comeback the emergence of Washington's Roy Sievers as a home run hitter, after a drastic operation for a crippled shoulder.
December 23, 1957
Professional boxing was dominated by two men—Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio—and in their stirring 15 rounds of battle at Yankee Stadium, Basilio, the lionhearted welterweight, beat Robinson and became the middleweight champion. Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson, whose two fights were made against lackluster opponents, perforce sank into a sort of eclipse in 1957, but Basilio, an honest, brave and dignified man, proved once again that professional boxing is deserving of an honorable place in the world of sport.
The 1957 football season, both professional and collegiate, tended to dramatize the undramatic fact that individual football stars, in this day of complex team endeavor, are increasingly rare. Some sensational football players performed, among them John Crow of Texas A&M, Bob Anderson of Army, Ned Oldham of Navy, Johnny Unitas, quarterback of the Baltimore Colts, and Cleveland's hard-running rookie of the year, Jimmy Brown. But the one big news story of the season could be summed up in four words—Notre Dame beat Oklahoma—and the year's one vastly sentimentalized hero was not a player (Dick Lynch made the historic touchdown for Notre Dame, Nick Pietrosante threw the historic block) but Coach Terry Brennan.
A great many agile young men of track and field seemed to relax, somewhat, after their exertions at Melbourne, but the milers continued their grueling feats. Ron Delany of Ireland and Villanova University was unbeaten in the indoor season; Don Bowden of the University of California finally proved that an American could break four minutes, too; and England's Derek Ibbotson erased John Landy's 3:58 world record by turning four laps in 3:57.2 at London. A pole vaulter, however, must be considered the year's most brilliant performer: Bob Gutowski of California's Occidental College broke Cornelius Warmerdam's 15-year-old record by reaching 15 feet 9¾ inches.
International tennis' first Negro star, Althea Gibson, the gangling girl from the streets of Harlem, burst up to the heights at last by winning at both Wimbledon and Forest Hills. Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics went right on being the world's best basketball player; Dick Mayer of La Jolla, Calif., made himself paramount chieftain of golf by beating Cary Middlecoff in the U.S. Open and Sam Snead in the Tarn O'Shanter. Juan Manuel Fangio, although hotly pursued by England's nerveless little Stirling Moss, remained the master of Grand Prix racing.
There were new and thrilling assaults on the "water barrier." Britain's Donald Campbell pushed his jet-powered Bluebird II past his old world record and set a new one of 239.07 miles an hour on England's Coniston Water. California's Jack Regas, managed a feat fully as difficult by driving Henry Kaiser's Gold Cup boat, Hawaii Kai III, almost 200 miles an hour—194.649 to be exact—on Seattle's Lake Washington. Meanwhile Henry Sears, Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, almost singlehandedly assured revival of yachting's most splendid competition, the ancient and honorable race for the America's Cup.
It was an impressive list of people and an impressive record of accomplishment. But, in 1957, as indeed in all his years with the Cardinals, Stanley Musial was more than an extremely talented baseball player. Good sportsmanship is a phrase which has come to be spoken almost sardonically in some quarters in the U.S.—an unfortunate reaction to a problem in semantics, and an inaccurate one to boot. The ideals of sportsmanship to which the average American gives reluctant lip service are considerably different, it is true, than those in which he instinctively believes. But such idealism—though it is in need of definition—continues to be the very foundation of American sport, and no man has exemplified it more laudably than Musial.
Webster defines "sportsman" as one who is fair and generous in sports, who has recourse to nothing illegitimate; a good loser and a graceful winner. The word has other connotations, sprung from the English public school; the most important involves the idea that victory or defeat is less important than how one "plays the game." The average American expects—in fact he demands—fairness, generosity and grace in his heroes of sport. But what is illegitimate? He thinks not a whit less of the pitcher who "brushes the batter back" by throwing at him—and neither does the batter—although this is counter to the rules. The game itself is more important than winning? Few Americans can believe so in their hearts. They like a good winner. But what is a good loser? If he is simply a man who keeps his mouth shut about his difficulties, fine. But the leap across the tennis net, the extravagant handshake, strikes the average fan as "strictly phony."
"Make the other fellows beat you"
In the U.S. the ideals of sportsmanship as well as those of competence are increasingly those of the professional—his attitudes, rather than those of schoolboys at play, shape the American's real code of sporting behavior. The schoolboys and the amateurs subscribe to them too: sport in the U.S. tends to be an emulation of life. The pros, it must be admitted, sometimes feel the need to enforce sportsmanship by sheer muscle power (as in the "bootsie play" of pro football, where the whole team charges an offender), but the English public school has its bullies, too, and they are discouraged by much the same method. By and large, professional athletes, in the supercharged phrasing of Branch Rickey, are a "splendid influence on the youth of our country," even though some of them would deny any such intent.
"I don't think I believe in sportsmanship," cried ex-Cardinal Manager Marty Marion, a few days ago in talking of Musial. "Look at those fighters on television—I'll be damned if I'd be throwing my arms around somebody who'd been beating on me for 10 rounds." But, in the same breath, he began defining his own exacting concept of sporting behavior. "A man ought to do everything he possibly can to win—anything else is cheating. I don't understand this stuff about being a good loser. I don't believe it. Of course, somebody has to lose. And I think this—if you make the other fellow beat you—if you force him to prove he's better than you, you have to give him credit for it. I'll admit he was better today. I don't say he'll be better tomorrow. I don't like alibis. I don't like this business of losing your temper, throwing bats, that sort of stuff. You ought to be a big leaguer. Take Stan—nobody will beat you worse, but I've never seen him do one thing any man would be ashamed of anywhere."
Musial, indeed, is a rare human. Great talent can distort as well as reward a man, but Musial seems to have been born with a truly awesome sense of duty and self-control. He is a relaxed, obliging, ordinary-appearing sort of fellow—at 37, his dark hair is thinning slightly and the lines of his lean, light heavyweight's body are deprecated by easy and conservative clothes—but it is hard to consider his life and times without feeling that he must have been invented by Horatio Alger Jr. His is the story, trite but astounding, of the poor, proud boy who goes to the great city, marries a lovely girl, becomes rich and famous, raises three handsome children and earns the admiration of his fellow citizens in all walks of life. Musial is very seldom booed—one day last year after he had been hooted in St. Louis 10 citizens inserted apologies in the papers. But Horatio Alger wrote of shoe clerks and industrious newsboys; when Musial stands, coiled and ready, at the plate, he is a warrior.
The smog that killed
To understand him, one should travel to the coal and iron country of western Pennsylvania and go down the turgid Monongahela River to Donora. The town (pop. 12,186) rises, drab and poor, like a backdrop for Socialist dramatics, on the slope above the dark, slow river. It has two reasons for existence, locally known as the Wire Mill and the Zinc Works; the river front is lined for miles by the vast and somber appurtenances of industrial metallurgy: blast furnaces, open hearths, blooming mills, rod mills, smelters. Smoke from the tall platoons of stacks has peeled the paint of the houses and killed the grass in Donora. In 1948, when smog settled too thickly in the valley, it killed 19 of Donora's people, too.
Musial's mother, a big, gray-haired, wonderfully animated woman, now has a bright, new ranch house in the green country beyond the town, but she—and Stanley—are products of grimmer days. Her father, a coal miner from Austria-Hungary, was one of the Central European immigrants who were Donora's first citizens. He spoke, as they say in the valley, the "Slavish" language, and worked in the Ella Mine. Daughter Mary rowed him across the Monongahela in a skiff at dawn, he walked four miles to the tipple, worked 12 hours underground, walked back and was duly rowed across the river again. He earned 90¢ a day. Mary mined coal, too—there was a pit in the back-yard down which she crawled to get fuel for the kitchen stove. When she was in her teens she went to work in the wire mill; she "took the whiskers off nails" and packed them into 100-pound kegs.
In 1912 she married a wiry young Pole named Lukasz Musial (pronounced Mew-shell, rather than Mu-si-al, in Donora), who came from Warsaw to load nails, barbed wire, reinforcing steel and other heavy objects into freight cars at the wire mill. Henceforth, for more than 30 years, she walked down the hill, in heat or snow, each morning at 9:30 with hot soup and his round, galvanized lunch pail. She also raised six children, four daughters and two sons, in the tumble-down four-room house her father had built above the mills. If it was a hard life it was also a hopeful one. Donora is a town of churches (the Roman Catholics alone have six) and good schools; the Musial children had love, "Hunky" food (dishes with names like pierogi, kolatche and halucki) and old-country discipline. And even before he was old enough for school, the fifth child, Stanley, laid hands on a talisman—a 15¢' toy baseball bat.
Looking back, it is difficult not to believe that his whole future fell securely into place at that moment. Few human lives are tinged with anything that close to magic, but as he swung his shiny little piece of wood he experienced a curious bliss which was to grow into the sure knowledge of great talent and was to lead him, unerring and undistracted, to fame, to applause, to wealth.
"He used to wait for me when I came up from the zinc works," recalls Joe Barboa, a grizzled ex-semipro player who was Musial's early tutor. "I was a short-shifter in the hot mill; we drawed the metal out of the furnaces at 6 o'clock in the morning, and by 8:30 or 9 I'd be through—it was that hot that a man did his day's work in a few hours. I'd be tired, but Stan would always ask me to play baseball with him. He was just a little kid and thin—that must have been around nineteen and twenty-six—but I never saw anything like him. Everything he did was right—the way he'd throw, the way he'd bat, the way he'd run. I ain't saying this because of what he's become either. I used to play with him just to watch him."
In the 1930s that fading institution, "town baseball," was a feverish part of life in Donora; big crowds came to watch seven-inning twilight games, even though the throngs along the left-field side had to stand on a line of trolley tracks and scramble to stay intact every time a streetcar passed. Joe Barboa managed a hard-bitten team known as the Zinc Works Athletic Club, and Musial became its bat boy. One evening in 1935 Barboa sent the bat boy—then 15—in to pitch. "The game was lost," Joe remembers, "and Stan wanted to play. He wasn't more than 5 feet 4 inches tall, and those other players were grown-up men, but he wasn't nervous at all. He went out and threw his fast ball and a little old cutty-thumb curve and struck out 13 batters."
A dazzling reward
After that Stash Musial played industrial baseball, high school baseball and American Legion baseball—sometimes almost every day in the week—in the smoky mill towns: Clairton, Monessen, Monongahela, Charleroi, California. When he was 17 the prodigy had his dazzling reward; the Cardinals gave him a contract and sent him to pitch for their Class D farm club at Williamson in the West Virginia coal fields. His father was angrily opposed. Stan was a catlike basketball player; the University of Pittsburgh had offered him an athletic scholarship, and his toil-worn parent felt that education was a precious American privilege. But Mary Musial settled the argument. "If he's an American," she said, "he's got a right not to go."
It might have seemed like a bad trade to anyone but Musial. The young pitcher got $65 a month and rattled from one mining town to the next, learning under the lights that he was not the world's greatest left-hander. He had pitched in high school because it seemed to prove he was the best player, but now he found that he was wild and that even Class D hitters were hard to fool.
In 1938 he married Lillian Labash, a blonde Donora girl of Slavic origins, whose father Sam ran a grocery store. If either of them worried about their hand-to-mouth existence they cannot remember it now. "Stan," says his old roomate, Milwaukee's Al (Red) Schoendienst, "isn't like most players. They hope they'll hit four for four. Stan is always sure he will."
Even in Daytona Beach the next year, when Lillian was pregnant and Stan fell in the outfield and suffered a shoulder "separation" which ruined him forever as a pitcher, they felt they were living in the best of all possible worlds—after all, the grocery store back home was full of food. "We were having a lot of fun," says Lillian. "I sat in a car on the field with the manager's wife and watched the games—the players used to push the batting cage around us to stop foul balls. The team gave us a baby carriage and the fans gave us a playpen and baby clothes. And Stan was always sure he was going to make it."
Stan was right. He had been tagged and branded as a run-of-the-mine minor league pitcher; the injury to his left shoulder forced the Cardinals to reappraise him and remind themselves that he was, more importantly, a tremendous young hitter. He came up to St. Louis the next fall—from Class D to the majors in one year. The year was 1941, and he was just 21, but from then on he belonged to the peerage of the National League.
He was a fine outfielder—although he had to return the ball with his shoulder partially locked and could never make the flat and burning throws from far out which characterize the truly great. He was fast and a wonderful base runner. But he was an awesome figure at the plate; his crouching stance—knees slightly bent, torso twisted away from the pitcher, bat cocked up and severely motionless, eyes staring unblinkingly over his right shoulder—became one of the wonders of the baseball world.
Musial, pitchers swear, is that rarest of creatures, a batter with no weaknesses. He is not a big man, but he has beautifully sculptured and tremendously powerful arms and shoulders, amazing reflexes and amazingly "quick wrists." Most batters can be inhibited if not baffled by pitches thrown high and tight (if the hitter swings he tends to take the ball on the handle of the bat near his hands) or low and away (as far as possible from his range of vision). Musial wallops them both indiscriminately; his 34-ounce bats fascinate other players, for the marks made by his hits are invariably grouped within a narrow zone nine inches from the barrel end. He can "pull" to hit the long ball to right field, punch it over the infielders' heads to left, almost at will. He can bunt. His judgment of pitches is uncanny.
Fifty per cent of present-day baseball players are known to the trade as "guess hitters"—that is, they attempt, by judging the situation and the pitcher, to anticipate the sort of throw which will be made to the plate. Applied with shrewdness this system can pay off, but the man who guesses wrong is usually off balance and completely out of luck. Musial never tries to outguess a pitcher. He can watch the ball until it is halfway to the plate, decide in the split second remaining to him whether he is getting a curve, a slider, fast ball, knuckler or changeup, whether the ball will be in the strike zone or out, and still find time to swing if he wishes.
"You get to know pitchers," he says, "and they have different sets of speeds. I can just about tell what's coming after it's thrown. I can have trouble with a pitcher who really has a change of pace. But most of them don't, so the odds are with me. A fast ball seems to jump up a little after it leaves the pitcher's hand. A curve doesn't. I never commit myself until I'm sure. I have to concentrate at the plate; I figure that if I misjudge 20 pitches a year I can ruin my batting average. But you can't think, you just react." Cardinal Manager Fred Hutchinson, a former pitcher, believes that Musial and also Ted Williams have something extra—a sixth sense, compounded of guile and experience, which is close to mind-reading. "They know—Musial seems to anyhow—what the pitcher is throwing. They couldn't tell you how; it's probably just some little thing about how the pitcher moves, but they know."
A printer's nightmare of records
In his years with the Cardinals, Musial has filled baseball's statistical histories with a printer's nightmare of batting records. In the late '40s, when the Cardinals played a tight, defensive, low-scoring sort of game, his marvelous consistency at the plate made him a tremendous asset; when the Cardinals began playing for the big inning, he became, almost without effort, one of the great home run hitters of the game. No. 21 of his innumerable league records reads: "Most home runs, double-header. Five. May 2, 1954." Musial is proud of that but for an odd reason—he hit the fourth one off a knuckle ball, a rare feat of timing.
He has earned fame, wealth and good will with his bat—but also with his innate good sense, restraint and balance. Despite his enormous individual gifts he has never ceased to be a team player and has never allowed himself the luxury of temperament. He has, in fact, never argued with an umpire—although, on those rare occasions when he turns and stares in silent accusation at the man behind the plate, the effect is thunderous. He is not just a baseball player in St. Louis; he is also a leading citizen. And on the $80,000 a year the Cardinals pay him he has made himself independent financially.
He owns a half interest (bought for $25,000 back in 1949) in what many consider St. Louis' best restaurant; he now nets, by informed estimates, $40,000 a year from it. With his partner Julius (Biggie) Garaghani, a shrewd, gravel-voiced, tireless entrepreneur, he invests in stock, real estate and other enterprises promising capital gain; he is a principal stockholder and a director in the suburban Brentwood Bank. In none of these ventures does he pretend to be an expert, but in all he maintains the right of veto; his associates are often startled by the sound reasoning which prompts him to refuse investment proposals.
Musial drives a Cadillac, lives in a rambling $50,000 red brick home in outlying St. Louis Hills and sends his three children—Dick, 17, a promising prep school football player, Geraldine, 13, and Janet, 8—to Catholic private schools. He hunts ducks in the off season and attends innumerable civic and charitable dinners and meetings. It is the sort of existence which might well bank the competitive fires and blunt the athletic prowess of most men of 37. Not so Musial—he still burns to win.
"I'm a big leaguer," he says. "That's the big charge in my life." This year, he had to be. He suffered a ruinous muscle injury and massive internal hemorrhaging deep in the lower back, at Cincinnati on the first day of the season; when he went to the dressing room after the game the outer muscles were "in spasm"—bunched up hard as ridged wood—and he could hardly move. Cardinal brass, including General Manager Frank Lane, stood around the rubbing table looking at this hideous spectacle like brokers watching the ticker during a market crash. Musial reassured them as Trainer Robert Bauman sprayed him with a thin stream of freezing ethyl chloride to shock and relax the hardened tissues. The Cardinals were rained out the next day, but on the night following, Musial, bandaged like a mummy, was in the lineup.
In late August, at Philadelphia, however, he was so badly hurt that he had to leave the field for the first time in five years. He swung hard at a wide pitch to protect a man going to second on the hit-and-run and yanked his upper left arm out of his left shoulder, fractured the bone of the shoulder socket and tore most of the heavy muscles over both collarbone and shoulder blade. He was out for 20 days—although he went in three times during that period as a pinch hitter. He could not throw the ball—but, after noting that his replacement at first base did not have to throw once in seven days, he argued his way back to active duty. "I just punched the ball," he says, deprecatingly. But in 30 times at bat he got 16 hits—six of them doubles.
"He had muscle spasm again over the shoulder blade, too," says Trainer Bauman. "It stuck up like a hot dog under the skin. And there was a definite fracture—a crack—of the bone around the socket. I worked on him twice a day with ultrasonic treatments. But when he started playing again he kept hurting those muscles. They went into spasm four or five different times. But Stan's a tough fellow. He can stand pain—pain that would make most men fold up. I guess it's those people he comes from—they had to be tough. And he's just got to play; some days I'd try to talk him out of it. He'd go in anyhow. He's great—the greatest I'll ever see and that's for sure."
FOR VALUE RECEIVED
Mickey Mantle's curse is comparison. Critics used to complain that he wasn't as good as Joe DiMaggio, his predecessor as bell cow of the New York Yankees. This year Mantle saved the Yanks with his hitting, which included a .365 average, best of his career. Yet when he was named Most Valuable Player in the American League, ahead of the remarkable Ted Williams, there was an avalanche of protest that obscured the undeniable truth that Mr. Mantle is a very great ballplayer.
Henry Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves lacks Mantle's glamor. Other players love to watch Henry hit, and they talk incessantly about his "great wrists," but for some reason the fans are not so appreciative of his rare skill. The Baseball Writers Association overlooked Stan Musial, as well as the indispensable Red Schoendienst and Warren Spahn of Aaron's own team, to give their Most Valuable Player award to "Mr. Wrists."
FOR GENIUS AS USUAL
Seldom in sports history have two careers so closely paralleled and duplicated one another as those of the National League's Sportsman of the Year Musial and the American League's stormy genius Ted Williams. In 19 years with the Boston Red Sox (of which five were spent in military service) he has built the third-highest (behind Cobb and Hornsby) lifetime batting average in history: .350. This year at 39 he hit a startling .388, to win his fifth batting championship and become the oldest player ever to turn the trick. The game has produced few such controversial personalities. But Williams is also a consummate artist and, in the classic phraseology of the inimitable Branch Rickey, "a man of courage—genuine courage; he is a person; he is ever the master of the situation and never its slave."