First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

A Hall of Fame Life
Editor’s Report
John Woods

Baseball lost one of its legends last weekend as Stan Musial, the Hall of Fame star for the St. Louis Cardinals, died at age 92. The headline in the Daily News caught my attention, and I read all about the former player and all-around good guy on the way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday morning for the annual Respect Life Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan, who as you know is a native of St. Louis.

I was aware that the cardinal, a big baseball fan, followed the game closely in his youth. Like many boys of his time, he knew all the statistics of his favorite players, not surprising since baseball has always been a numbers game.

Musial was the biggest star the St. Louis Cardinals had. His numbers throughout his 22 years in the big leagues, all with the Cardinals, added up so well that he was elected to the Hall of Fame in upstate Cooperstown the first year he was eligible, 1969.

The slugger totaled 475 career home runs and 1,951 runs batted in. He was also a paragon of consistency: of his 3,630 hits, exactly half came in games played in St. Louis and the other half came on the road. His other statistics were equally great, but since this isn’t a sports column, we’ll move on.

Last year, as we prepared our special issue when Cardinal Dolan became a cardinal, we tried to land a short interview with Musial. Unfortunately, he was not up to speaking with us at the time.

Heading into the cathedral on Sunday morning, I hoped the cardinal would have a few minutes afterward to reflect on Musial’s life. As it turned out, he was a step ahead of me.

He seamlessly wove a short reflection on the baseball great into a homily very much in keeping with the pro-life spirit of the Mass.

Remembering Musial as “a great athlete and a great American,” Cardinal Dolan said, “Growing up in St. Louis as I did, you can imagine what he means to me.”

The cardinal was just 10 years old the first time he met Musial. When he approached the all-star, Musial tussled his hair and said, “How are you, slugger?”

More than half a century later, the cardinal said, “I’ll never forget that.”

The cardinal drew oohs and aahs from the congregation when he picked up an autographed St. Louis Cardinals cap Musial sent him at the time he was made a cardinal, along with the message, “Here’s a real red hat.”

That was not the only line that drew laughs, either. The cardinal recalled the time a dozen years ago when he was “pinch-hitting” as the celebrant of a weekday Mass at Musial’s home parish. Stan was there, and the two went out to breakfast afterward.

Knowing Musial’s lifetime batting average of .331, the cardinal wondered what the Cardinals’ great thought he might have hit if he had played during a period with a livelier ball and a prevalence of artificial turf surfaces, which combined to drive batting averages upward.

“About .275,” Musial replied.

The cardinal told Musial that he thought he might be selling himself short.

“Well, I am 80,” Musial said.

The line brought gales of laughter from the congregation that filled the cathedral.

On a serious note, the cardinal recalled that the last time he saw Musial was at the wake of his beloved wife of 71 years, Lillian, last May, which coincided with a planned visit he was making to his hometown to celebrate his elevation as cardinal.

“He was not only a great athlete,” Cardinal Dolan said. “He took his Catholic faith very seriously and tried his best to attend Mass and receive Communion every day.”

Considering all the scandals on the sports pages today, it seems like we could use a few more athletes like Stan Musial now.


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