RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
One of greatest hitters in the history of baseball, Stan Musial, has died. He was born 92 years ago in Donora, Pennsylvania and raised there. But for his fans, Stan the Man, as he was known, will forever be linked to the St. Louis and the Cardinals.
Greg Echlin has this remembrance.
GREG ECHLIN, BYLINE: Wearing a bright red blazer while riding in the back of a shiny car, before the 2009 All-Star game in St. Louis, Stan Musial had one more chance to bask in the adoration of his fans.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A Hall of Famer and the heart and soul of Cardinal baseball, Stan The Man Musial.
ECHLIN: Musial was selected to the All-Star team 24 times, second only to Hank Aaron who edged him out by one game. Players of Musial's type were referred to as gamers, the ones who would come through when something was on the line. One of those moments on the big stage took place in the 1955 All-Star game.
The game dragged on until the 12th inning when Musial stepped to the plate.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Nobody on base and nobody out on Sullivan's first pitch to Stan. A swing out and a drive to the back of right field. A long one. The ballgame is over.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
ECHLIN: Three years later, Musial was guaranteed baseball immortality when he reached the 3,000 hit mark.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Stan waits. Now the stretch from the belt. Here's the pitch. Line drive. There it is. Into left field. Hit number 3,000. A run has scored. Musial around first, on his way to second with a double.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
ECHLIN: Aware that no one had reached that milestone since 1942, Musial knew there was a lot of hype.
STAN MUSIAL: Yes, there was. You know, I wanted to get it over with then, because if it didn't happen, you might be getting in a car wreck.
MUSIAL: So I wanted to get it over with. And I had a great start that year and I got it very quickly.
ECHLIN: Musial played his last season with the Cardinals in 1963. Here's broadcaster Harry Caray covering a game in late September of that season.
HARRAY CARAY: Take a good look, fans. Take a good look. This might be the last time at bat in the major leagues.
CARAY: Remember the stance and the swing. Not likely to see his likes again. The pitch to Musial. A hot shot on the ground into right field, a base hit.
ECHLIN: The only players with more career hits than Musial are Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. Stan Musial entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. It was his first year of eligibility, and there was very little debate. During his induction ceremony, Musial thought about his first Hall of Fame visit to Cooperstown, New York, as a player in 1942.
MUSIAL: And I really didn't dream, honestly, that I'd ever be back at that time, probably to be inducted in baseball's Hall of Fame. Even if you're confident, and I always felt I could play the game, it's presumptuous until you put together many, many good seasons, to consider that one day you might have this fine day.
ECHLIN: His induction came one year after a statue in his likeness in his famous left handed batting stance was unveiled outside Busch Stadium. And it's still admired today outside the new Busch Stadium at the '09 All-Star game.
It even meant something to Albert Pujols, the modern face of the Cardinals before he moved on to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He greeted Musial on the field that night and later humbly acknowledged the overpowering stature of Stan Musial.
ALBERT PUJOLS: And I mean, Stan the Man. He's the man here in St. Louis.
ECHLIN: The Man received the Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama, who praised Stan Musial as an icon, untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you would want your kids to emulate.
For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin.
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