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Stan the Man and the Question of Fame

by David Pietrusza
It is a panel discussion. But it is not composed of academics or journalists or any
of the normal gaggle of "talking heads" that now dominate our television screens
or lecture halls. No, these men are athletes, ex-athletes to be specific, ex-St. Louis
Cardinals to be more specific still.

There is Red Schoendienst and Ted Savage and the original Ozzie Smith, Marty
Marion.

But there is also THE MAN. Stan the Man. A .331 lifetime average; 3,630 hits,
475 homers. Three MVP Awards. Seven batting titles. It is not just his statistics
which dominate the stage, it is his manner. He laughs. He gestures. He does not
hog the limelight, but when he speaks or even just moves he communicates in
such as way as to shout: I enjoy being here. I loved the old days and talking about
them. I even relish
right now, being 72 years old, surviving fairly serious surgery,
talking to you fans--and I'm
very comfortable being Stanley Frank Musial, a kid
from the coal mining country who could probably by this hotel and tell the previous
owners to keep the change.

The program ends. Some of these old men display amazing dexterity in fleeing
the stage, seeking refuge in the labyrinthine corridors of this hostelry, to flee the
hordes of autographic seekers and gushing fans they know will descend on them.

They've taken this route before.

You expect Stan to be among them. No. To be leading the pack, leaving maybe
Ted Savage or Marty Marion behind to hold off the horde. Musial's a star,
the star
of this event, the stellar performer of all St. Louis baseball history. Hell, he takes up
as much space in St. Louis Hall of Fame as the whole St. Louis Browns franchise
and his scribbled signature can command big money at any card show in the
country. He
should be out of the chute in a flash. But he's not—they say he never
is. He signs for everyone. For those in the Brooklyn Dodger nostalgia caps who
remember when he owned Ebbets Field. For those not born when he retired. He
seems younger than them all. He smiles--no, he beams--and chats and mugs and
even threatens to play--and then does--his harmonica.

And when he has worn out the last baseball acolyte in the hall, he heads down the
escalator into the lobby past startled guests--and stops for them, poses for
photographs, signs again and again. And does the same thing on the sidewalk.

Amazing. One can't see Willy, Mickey or the Duke putting on such a performance.
Certainly not the reclusively aloof Mr. Coffee so lighting up a place. In fact, it's hard
to imagine you or I—on our wedding day--carrying this off for more than 60
seconds.

Which brings to mind some question in examining a central power of that elusive
quality known as fame: if you could bring happiness to strangers just by signing a
scrap of paper or putting your arm around them and posing for a photo or just
giving them the luxury of a big wave would you do it?

Or would you hoard it, afraid to trade your privacy or your time for it? Would that
power be your gift or your curse? Would you even realize you had it? Or would you
think only of yourself and not even see the joy you created like some mythic being.
And if you accept this ability as a gift and not curse, for how long could you carry
its weight? A few months? A few years? Or like Stan for half a century?

Obviously, Stan Musial has made his choice. He enjoys
being Stan the Man,
Baseball's Perfect Knight. Perhaps for him it was an easy decision. For others
who snarl at an adoring world or run full tilt from the madding crowd perhaps that
choice was easy too, but possibly it was not the easy way they thought it would be.

Number Six's burden seems very,
very light.

In the decades to come, Stan's records may be overshadowed by flashier
numbers. More homeruns. A higher batting average. Far bigger contracts.
Whatever. But what has made Stan a bigger hero than his two decades on the
field has been five decades in a far tougher league of celebrity and how to deal
with it.

It wasn't just some sportswriter's doggerel that caused him to be call "The Man."