With the passing of Stan Musial last week, the St. Louis Cardinals lost an icon of their history, baseball lost a legend, and we as a people lost a simply great man. Ford Frick called him baseball’s perfect knight and he was—a man beyond reproach, who simply did what he did as best he could.
While reading and watching the proceedings at his remembrance and funeral, I got to wondering: Who is the Cleveland Indians’ Stan Musial?
Stan would show up to Cardinals games often, but never until after it started, because he didn’t want to take attention from the game. He was a paragon of virtue, kindness personified, and whatever other lame sounding phrase you want to use to describe him as being as perfect as can be, he was all of it, just a truly solid dude. The Indians have been around for a while and a lot of great players have worn that jersey. Do any of them match the stature of The Man? After all, there’s got to be some reason we keep coming back.
Is it Jim Thome? Big Jim is legend himself for his big heart, big homers and big smile, and if there’s one person Tribe fans can’t get enough of it’s him. Heck, he was injured and ineffective for most of this past year, but the teams that had him loved every minute of it and Cleveland is looking into bringing him back as designated hitter. It doesn’t matter if you’re old school, saber-leaning, jaded or irrationally hopeful, just the idea of Thome coming back is exciting. Plus, like Musial, he’s got the ridiculous numbers, though it’s mostly homers. He’s sending his nieces and nephews through college, he probably builds a mean treehouse, and he just looks like a nice guy. If anyone in the Cleveland Indians universe can hold a candle to The Man, it’s Thome.
Have we already lost our Stan Musial—was it Bob Feller? The two were contemporaries, one a dominating pitcher who shattered bats and loved his country, the other a stunning outfielder who laced doubles and loved everyone. Feller’s got the stats like Stan’s got the stats, and about the only knock on Bob is he was a bit of a curmudgeon, and that’s putting it lightly. But they both loved the team and city that adopted them, were the face of the franchise for their careers and even years later. Both men were from another era, both were products of small rural towns, and both lived forever, it seemed. Maybe that sour streak Feller had actually helps his cause here. After all, compared to Cleveland, St. Louis is a paradise. You gotta have an edge in a place like that. There’s bad pub out there about Feller, something that doesn’t exist for Stan, but that’s part of his allure in all this.
Maybe we have to look further. Maybe it’s Herb Score. Herb was supposed to be the left-handed Feller when he came to the Tribe, and was on his way until that fateful day in May of ‘ 57, when a batted ball struck him in the face. He was never the same as a player (he told Terry Pluto it was actually a tendon injury that sapped his ability, but who knows) but he was always a part of the Indians. Like Musial, Score was a stand up guy, an ambassador for the team and city, and a fun broadcaster to boot. He didn’t have the numbers, but nobody didn’t like Herb Score. That’s gotta count for something.
Of course, it could be that we haven’t seen him yet. Maybe Jason Kipnis, so young, talented and fun-loving, will be charmed by Cleveland and stay forever. Plus he’s got a couple knucklehead brothers, he could import them from Oak Lawn. We’ll just show Joakim Noah about vacationing in Cleveland. Perhaps Trevor Bauer’s personality problems will ingratiate him with Clevelanders and he’ll spurn the bigger paychecks to thrill us with thousands of strikeouts. Maybe Francisco Lindor is that guy, seduced by the beauty (or whatever you want to call it) of the mighty Cuyahoga, entranced by the rabid fanbase that lays flour at his feet in a strange, misguided gesture of adoration. Maybe he’ll be a 20-year player (hopefully at a discount) and spend his off days saving kittens. That’s what it would take, and we know just enough about him personally (that is, near nothing) where he could be almost anything.
The key, besides the sweetness of heart, is the offensive destruction Stan laid upon the National League. If we want to find the Tribe comparison, it’s got to be a lightning-batted legend and Cleveland hasn’t had a whole ton of that over the years. The worst of it is, the only Indians in my lifetime that could even hold a candle to Musial’s offensive production, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez, weren’t what you’d call stand-up guys. Belle had the 50/50 season and was an absolute terror in all senses of the word. His baseball abuse and the caffinated frenzy that drove Belle was alluring to me. I can appreciate a force of nature as much as the next guy. But as terrific he was in the batters’ box, Albert Belle was no Stan Musial. There’s a reason they let him walk.
Manny was another case. Where Belle was a malcontent Manny was a child, in both good and bad ways. Some have called him the Mozart of hitting: a virtuoso who had no time or mind for grownup games. Manny was like nothing before or since, just like Stan. But he wasn’t invested in the game, and you never know how could he could have been if he’d been truly locked in. Of course, you have to wonder how much better he could have been, but whatever. No, a boyish charm and happy-go-lucky smile are nice, but they’re not the solid, comforting presence of a man among men leading his squad. That was Musial. As you might guess, that’s not quite Manny.
It feels hackneyed to say, but Stan was truly one of a kind. It’s almost unbelievable to read about him—he sounds like something a 10-year-old thought up when asked to describe a baseball player. Every team doesn’t have their own Stan Musial, try as they and their marketing departments do to talk their own guys up. He was who he was because he was genuine, because he was just a good guy who was dazzling at baseball. He’s the greatest player ever for a team that’s one of the great franchises the game has ever seen, so perhaps we shouldn’t try to find our own Man. He was something to appreciate, and it’s unfair to him and to other players to compare to him.
Who is the Indians' Stan Musial?
- Bob Feller (53%, 45 Votes)
- Jim Thome (27%, 23 Votes)
- Someone else (11%, 9 Votes)
- No one (8%, 7 Votes)
- Herb Score (1%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 85