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Stan the Man

I met Stan Musial once at Sportsman’s Park on Grand Avenue; had to have been 1957 or 1958, when I was nine or ten years old. The Cardinals were playing the Braves, then still sojourning in Milwaukee. Warren Spahn pitched for the Braves, striking Stan out twice and beating the Redbirds. My dad and I had front row seats in the first-baseline box of Sligo Steel, a major H-W vendor. Although I’ve seen nearly 100 major league games during the last six decades, and this wasn’t the first one with my Dad, it’s the one I remember best.

The late 1950s game at Sportsman’s Park is memorable for three reasons:

1)  It was the first time I remember hearing Dad tell of seeing his first major league game in that same ball park in 1934, when he was 12 years old. His brother-in-law, my Uncle Oren Garrett, had hauled livestock to National Stockyards across the Mississippi River in Illinois, and afterwards Oren (whom my dad called “Ownie”) took him to see Dizzy Dean beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. Diz went on to win 30 games that season and led the Gashouse Gang to World Series victory over Detroit. Dad admired Diz, and always considered Ownie about the most man he’d ever known.download

2)  Watching Warren Spahn, arguably the best left-handed hurler ever, pitch nine innings face-on from about halfway between the plate and first base created an indelible memory. Six-feet tall but looking taller because he was so slim and lanky, Spahn had that high-kicking motion in which the knuckles of his pitching hand were perhaps six-inches from the dirt of the pitcher’s mound as his right foot kicked so high it was above his head. Yet, his eyes never left the would-be hitter as he put all that graceful motion into catapulting the ball to whatever precise bit of space he wanted it to momentarily occupy. At the end of the game my dad observed that Spahn was barely sweating in the oppressive summer heat of St. Louis. That big windup put little strain on his pitching arm, but made the ball travel at great (but never measured) speed and him a top pitcher until he was 44 years old (no-hitters pitched at ages 39 and 40).

3) As always, we arrived at the ball park in time for batting practice.  In those days, before .250-hitting prima donnas were paid millions of dollars a year, ball players would stand outside the dugouts during batting practice and sign autographs for FREE. I was one of many children that night who got autographs from Musial, Spahn, and Red Schoendienst, who was then playing for the Braves.

Red celebrated his 90th birthday Friday night, Jan. 18, 2013, with many friends, a meal and a few glasses of wine at Mike Shannon’s restaurant. Stan, his close friend of a lifetime and roommate for ten or more years, died the next day.

 

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