It was shortly before 10 on a hot morning and Stan Musial, the rookie general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, had already put in two hours of desk work in his comfortable, unpretentious office at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. He had smoked his first cigar of the day while carefully reading the newspapers from sports page to stock market quotations to weather forecasts to front page, made several phone calls, accepted yet another invitation for a luncheon speech and spoken to his manager, Red Schoendienst. After clearing his desk, Musial started walking toward the playing field where the Cardinals would have their next-to-last workout before commencing the long preseason exhibition schedule.
Before getting to the field, however, Stanley had to pause to take care of a few more details and examine certain things that go with the job he inherited only six weeks ago when Bob Howsam left St. Louis for the security that a three-year contract with the Cincinnati Reds would bring. In front of the ball park he stopped to watch a crowd of people gathering to purchase tickets for the spring training games. When the crowd spotted Musial, mouths opened in surprise, and one of those typical St. Petersburg old-timers, wearing a loud shirt with a string tie, called to him. "Stan," he said, "how about an autograph?" Musial walked over to the crowd to oblige. "Glad you got the job," one of the people said. "You deserve it. Howzit feel, Stan? Howzit feel?"
Musial smiled and tapped the man on the shoulder. "Feels pretty good," he said, "pretty good. Just starting to get my feet wet, you know? It's a long way from being a sore-armed pitcher from Donora, Pennsylvania to a job like this." Musial's head went back in laughter, and he seemed to be enjoying the conversation even more than the friendly crowd was; those who have made a serious study of Musial will swear that he was enjoying it more.
Seldom in baseball does a truly great player rise to the position of general manager. Before Musial's appointment late in January you could count the ones who did on the fingers of one glove: Eddie Collins, Herb Pennock, Hank Greenberg and Joe Cronin. Indeed, in baseball today only four men—Paul Richards of Atlanta, Haywood Sullivan of Boston, Ed Lopat of Kansas City and George Selkirk of Washington—were ever active major league players. And even these four served apprenticeships as field managers with major league clubs or with minor league clubs or both before moving up to the front office. Musial has never managed for one day nor has he ever expressed a desire to.
There is no doubt, either, that Musial accepted a very hot seat when he took the job as St. Louis general manager. In the 13 years that Anheuser-Busch Inc. has owned the Cards they have hired, used up, become disenchanted with, lost or fired six different general managers, and done likewise with six field managers. Those figures do not include Branch Rickey, Leo Durocher and Charlie Metro, all of whom were allegedly waiting in the wings for somebody to fail. Along with that precarious history, Musial, Schoendienst and the Cards are obliged to begin the 1967 season with a schedule that has them playing their first 19 games against San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Houston and Cincinnati, teams that are either pennant favorites or rivals that Cardinal teams of the recent past have had the most difficulty with.
As though these burdens were not enough, St. Louis will be fielding a starting lineup that collectively draws more than $400,000 in salaries—one of the highest-paid in major league history. It is a lineup that many people believe is strong enough to make St. Louis a genuine challenger for the pennant despite recent odds from Reno that make the Cards a 12-1 overlay. In other words, a lot is expected of the Cardinals—and Musial.
After leaving the crowd at the ticket lines that morning Musial walked onto the playing field, talking about his new job and his hopes for the ball club. He was dressed in a blue hat, purple sweater covering a sport shirt with red and gray stripes, blue slacks and black loafers with tassels on them. He went over to chat with Schoendienst. Musial and Schoendienst were roommates for 13 years as players. (Schoendienst once said, "I don't think there was ever a time when one of us went out the door without the other.") Each took defeat bitterly and played despite severe injuries and illnesses. Once in New York they played a game and lost and returned to the hotel. Each told the other that he felt a little cold coming on, and they went to bed. Neither was able to get up the next morning, and when the doctor arrived he discovered two cases of double pneumonia.
When a school of photographers advanced upon them Musial put his arm around Schoendienst and carried on a conversation with the photographers in order to make their job easier. "It's a little early in the morning for this," he said. "You guys ought to know that Red and I don't hit our peak until about noon." He laughed, and Schoendienst laughed with him. "How would you guys like it if we came out at 10 in the morning and started to take your picture? Is this color or black and white? Color? Yeah, yeah. O.K., Red, give 'em your living smile. One more? Sure, sure, one more. Why not?" After the session was over, Musial leaned against the batting cage, watching the hitters, and explained why he had never become a field manager.
"It's been said," he began, "that I didn't want to be a field manager because I'd be too easy on the players. That isn't true. I'd probably be too tough on them. I never even thought about managing, because that is a thing you have to set your sights on. I never set my sights on that at all. My reason for it was because I did not want that daily diet of winning and losing. Sure, I'll have some of that now in this job, but unless you have been very close to a big-league baseball team you can't realize what that daily winning-and-losing thing is, how it grows on you and gets at you. This job should be more the sort of thing I like, and I like it already. You don't have to concern yourself so totally with one loss. It shouldn't hurt you as much inwardly as it does a player, even though it will certainly hurt some. But sitting up here away from the dugout I can look at a game and see what we need to make the team better and then go out and try to get it."
Musial on spoons
Although as a player Musial appeared to be a man who could shuck off a loss, that was not really true. But he could relieve the pressure by doing sleight-of-hand tricks that he had picked up in his early years. He would take a deck of cards and do spellbinding tricks and then laugh when he had fooled his audience. (He still loves to do sleight of hand.) Or, when music was playing in the Cardinal clubhouse, Stan would take a pair of hangers and keep perfect rhythm on tile, wood and footlockers. When the Cards were at dinner he would often play a rhythm on spoons, and he built himself a reputation as "the best spoon player in the majors." Even today, as general manager, he will walk about humming some unknown lullaby, the melody of which changes occasionally, thus taxing the musical knowledge of office personnel and players alike. "Stanley," they will finally ask, "what is that song? It's driving everybody crazy." And Stanley will laugh and say, "It's my new one. Pretty good. It'll keep you on your toes." Thus go the devices of relaxation, once as a player, now as a general manager.
The question asked of Musial most often this spring is, "What about Roger Maris?" In the most discussed trade of the off season, the Cardinals, through their previous General Manager Bob Howsam, got Maris from the New York Yankees in exchange for Charlie Smith. Maris had told the Yankees twice in 1966—once in July and again two days before the season ended—that he no longer wanted to play in New York. "They had to believe one of two things," Roger said recently. "Either they believed me or they thought I was giving them a lot of bull." Two days before he signed his contract with the Cardinals, Maris decided to play instead of retiring. "The reason," he says, in that frank way of his that often gets him in trouble when it should not, "is my own." Some say the only reason why Maris finally changed his mind and decided to play again is that he wants the $72,000 salary St. Louis is paying him. The more probable reason is pride. Maris wants to prove again that he is an excellent player when healthy, something he has not been in the past two seasons.
The other day, as Maris came to bat in his first intrasquad game, Musial leaned forward in his seat behind home plate. His wife Lillian and his 8-year-old daughter Jeanie were seated alongside him, each in a Cardinal cap. When Maris lined a clean single to right field the largest crowd ever to see an intrasquad game at Al Lang Field gave him a huge ovation. But Stanley Musial did not applaud at all. He merely leaned back in his seat and gave Jeanie a quick hug. Later Musial explained what the Cardinals hoped Maris would mean to them in the season ahead.
"We know that Roger is an established major league player and a tremendous outfielder," he said. "We aren't looking at him and saying he is going to have a great year this year. Neither are we looking for any miracles from him. If he does what he can do—and we think he is now over his injuries, because we have had him examined carefully—he can get runs for the Cardinals. That's what we need. We did not get enough runs last year.
"It's a long jump from sixth place to the pennant," Musial admits candidly, "but we're going to work like the devil to go higher. And I think we will."