As Mama gingerly placed a plate of fried chicken on the table, Johnny Antonelli laid a slow curve across the plate at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And as I reached out to grab the drumstick, Stan Musial uncoiled from his familiar corkscrew stance and lashed Antonelli's delivery over the rightfield pavilion for a home run. It was Sunday, May 2, 1954, and Harry (Holy Cow) Caray was broadcasting the first game of a doubleheader with the Giants over KWHN in Fort Smith, Ark. It was a day to remember—25 seasons ago.
"Did you hear that? Stan the Man hit a home run!" I announced through a mouthful of chicken.
"Yeah," said Daddy, "and listen to ol' Harry now."
"Holy cow," we said, mimicking Harry in unison.
After our usual Sunday dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans, Daddy would lie in bed, puffing occasionally on a Prince Albert roll-your-own and listening to Caray in distant St. Louis describe the exploits of Stanley Frank Musial.
The Man was a legendary figure in our part of the country in 1954. He had already won the batting title six times and had been MVP three times. But such honors were not the only reasons that Stan was our Man. We kept in touch with the world through him. Musial was, I felt, my personal representative in faraway, mysterious regions like Philadelphia, Chicago and that ultimate, unfathomable place, New York.
I had never seen a major league ballplayer and didn't consider that fact unusual. Those other places, those other people, those other kids had the boys of summer, They had Hodges. They had Snider. They had Mantle and the Empire State Building. Bostonians had Ted Williams and Paul Revere and the entire Revolutionary War. And what did kids in Arkansas have? Revivals. The county fair. The Ozarks. And, by adoption, Stan the Man, our only person, institution, phenomenon or product that was superior to what they had. The Man was ours, mine, and he was the greatest.
It rained very hard early that day, and there wasn't any batting practice. I never felt too good about playing a game without looking at a few balls in the strike zone, so, naturally, I was a little uneasy about hitting that day. Antonelli was a very good fastball pitcher and had a good curve to go with it. I was just trying to meet the ball, figuring Yd be a little unsure. He came in with a curve and I tried to swing level. I always hit off the fastball—I mean, I was set up for the fastball, then I could adjust to the slower speeds. I swung easy and level and happened to hit it good, and it went out. That was the first one of the day.
By the fifth inning, Mama had the dishes washed and had put baby sister down for a nap. Then she tried to get a little sleep, too. My brother David was hitting rocks out of the driveway with a sawed-off broomstick. Daddy dozed in his undershirt, but kept one ear on the radio. I was on the front porch when the Man came up in the fifth.
The Giant pitchers never gave me the same pitch twice. Teams pitched differently to every player, and the Giants had the idea that I should never see the same pitch twice in a row. Antonelli was working me in that manner. Schoendienst was on, and Antonelli threw me a fastball, about the only one I saw all day. I took a good level swing at the ball and—
"Long fly ball to right...way back," screamed the voice over the radio. "It might be out of here." Daddy opened his eyes. David held the broom handle steady. "It is! A home run for Stan the Man Musial! Holy cow, his second of the day off Antonelli." "Wow, Stan the Man hit another!" I called to both of them from the front porch.
"Quit yelling into the window!" said Mama.
Around 3:30 I was back in the kitchen looking for something to eat. I poured a bowl of Cheerios and milk and yelled to my father in the bedroom.
"What's the score?"
"Tied up 6-6."
"Kid named Hearn."
"When's Stan up?"
"Quit yelling into the bedroom!" Mama said.
Jim Hearn came in for Antonelli, and it was tied at six-all. A couple of guys got on base. I'd never hit three home runs in a game and didn't consider myself a home-run hitter, really. I was more of a line-drive type, but Hearn threw me a slider that got out over the plate, and so I took a good cut and—
I sprang up from the table and ran from the kitchen through the living room to the open bedroom door.
"It might be out of here!" Daddy raised up on one elbow. "It could be...it is!"
Daddy laughed and said, "Holy cow!" as David and I jumped around the radio. Mama said, "Oh, for cryin' out loud," and got out of bed. "You don't mean he hit another one."
For the second game of the doubleheader, Daddy moved the radio into the living room.
"You think he could hit another one, Daddy?" asked David.
"Sure he will," I volunteered.
"Not likely," said Daddy, whose opinion on hitting we highly respected because he had been a legendary batsman in Sebastian County. Rumor had it that around 1926 our dad hit four long ones over the pecan trees in Lucas, Ark. off a 15-year-old fireballer, pitching in overalls and bare feet, named Dean. And down behind the courthouse, in 1945, Daddy had blasted a line drive off Warren Spahn, who was pitching for the Army team at Fort Chaffee. Yes sir, our daddy sure could hit a baseball.
The afternoon wore on. Musial walked in the first inning of the second game and flied out deep to Mays his second time at bat. Not realizing the historical import of the day's events and being a restless kid, at about 5:30 I got on my bicycle and coasted to town. I happened to notice that Mr. Stafford was working overtime in the Greenwood Cleaners. As I walked toward the shop, he pulled down the press, causing steam to spew loudly out of the side of the building. "Stan has hit three homers," I announced proudly as I entered. Mr. Stafford smiled and pointed to the radio, saying, "Yeah, I know, and he's up again next." He placed a pair of gray slacks on the bottom pad and brought the handle down while listening to the broadcast over the hissing.
Hoyt Wilhelm threw a knuckleball, and I didn't like to hit against that. By the time it got to the plate it was somewhere else from where you last saw it, if you know what I mean. It moved all over, and you just couldn't be sure where it was going to be. But on this particular occasion, I think he tried to slip a curve by me. I saw the ball spinning and—
"Way back!" Caray screamed for the fourth time, now with a kind of frenzy that tightened his voice box and caused a gagging sound. "It might be...it could be...it is!"
Mr. Stafford roared with laughter and held up four fingers of the hand that was not on the press. Steam and black smoke seeped out from between the pads of the press, and I wondered about those gray slacks. I squealed with delight and headed for the house as fast as I could pedal. Mama was getting ready to go to church, but us menfolk gathered around the radio to see if our Man could do it one more time. Daddy said the fourth homer had equaled a major league record for home runs in two successive games. The Man was the best.
After the fourth one, they told me in the dugout I had tied a record. I guess I was somewhat elated about that. Although I wasn't a home-run hitter, I naturally believed I could hit with most of them, so to hit four home runs in one day made me very happy. I guess my next at bat was one of the few times in my whole career that I was thinking home run when I went to bat. I didn't swing for a homer, but I admit I was thinking about it even though I didn't feel I had a chance off the knuckleball. Wilhelm floated one up there, and I figured it looked about as good as any, so I swung and hit it well—
"Way back!" It was too much. David swung the broom handle like a maniac and fell backward over a footstool. I couldn't think of a thing to say that was loud enough, so I just jumped up and grinned and knew that the Man was my man. Even Mama got excited. She was on her way out the back door, Bible in hand, when she heard the noise. She ran back to "the living room door and watched us chant in unison, "Might be...it could be...IT IS! A home run, holy cow, Stan Musial's fifth of the day!"
Daddy shook his head. With a faraway look on his face he said, "Well, I'll be damned."
It was past 7:30 before Musial came to bat again in the ninth. I knew he would hit No. 6, but Daddy said we should be realistic. I figured, though, if he could hit five he could hit six.
They brought in Larry Jansen. I've never understood why they brought in the ace of their staff in the ninth to pitch to me. It was maybe the only time I ever swung for a home run. He threw me a fastball that came in real good, and for some reason I took it. You know, I've always had a feeling that I should've hit that pitch. Then he threw me a fastball, high and in. I was too anxious and swung way too hard and popped the ball up to Whitey Lockman at first base.
David and Daddy ate cold chicken at the kitchen table. I stood in the middle of the living room and swung the broom handle, from the left side, crouched in that unique position. "The pitch [swoosh], long fly ball, way back, it might be, it could be, it is! A home run. Holy cow!"