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
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
notâ€”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 Iâ
€”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."