Joe Jack Buck’s passing, there’s probably no more revered man in the St. Louis baseball scene than Stan Musial. “Stan The Man,” you may recall, is the Cardinals’ franchise leader for home runs with 475, and he was named to a jaw-dropping 24 All-Star Games (they named him to one in 1997 after a clerical error, and he went 2-3 with a double and 3 RBI).
Musial’s also 88, and there’s discussion that his health is on the decline. This year’s All-Star Game, then, was the “last, best hope” for a proper send-off for the Cardinals legend - a la Willie Mays in San Francisco back in 2007. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the real VIP in the house.
That would have been President Barack Obama, and whenever a President’s in the house, he sets the rules (else, what’s a President for?). So with his sudden inclusion into the pre-game program two weeks ago, time had to be made for his first pitch, and you can just imagine where it came from.
The time required for Obama’s appearance, which was not added to the program until two weeks ago, effectively torpedoed a more elaborate tribute to Cardinal patriarch Stan Musial.
While Musial’s entrance and delivery of the ceremonial baseball to Obama were special and poignant, many were anticipating a scene similar to what took place at Fenway Park 10 years ago, when the All-Stars converged on Ted Williams and paid their respects.
That type of spontaneous scene was not possible, and the main reason was executive privilege. The Cardinals had blueprints for a more profound recognition of Musial, whose statue stands outside the stadium. But MLB trumped the script to accommodate Obama’s appearance on a tightly scheduled pregame bill.
It’s almost fitting, isn’t it? That the most overlooked player in the discussion of the greatest ever gets overlooked one last time? Fitting, and yes, sad. The great Joe Posnanski saw it the same way:
“I thought the Musial thing was sad,” Bernie [Miklasz] said, first thing. He was talking, of course, about the pre-game ceremony for Stan Musial and others before the All-Star Game on Tuesday in St. Louis. And you know how sometimes you know something but you don’t KNOW it until someone puts it into words. Well, it was like that.
Stan Musial IS St. Louis, and he’s 88 years old, and word was he was energized by the All-Star Game. Two days before, Rick Hummell wrote a beautiful piece for the Post-Dispatch — a conversation between Musial and Albert Pujols. Yes, I expected this moment to be unforgettable.
[…] And then it happened, Musial was driven out in a little red car, and the crowd stood and applauded. And it was nice. It really was nice. Only … it didn’t last very long. And it never soared past nice. The whole thing sort of sat there, happy but flat, and then President Obama came out in a White Sox jacket to throw the first pitch — more on that in a minute — and there were a few boos mixed with cheers, and he waved to the crowd and … it was over. […] It was weird.
It may be mere testament to the fact that you can’t manufacture a real “moment,” one that’ll last forever in peoples’ hearts and minds. And as nice an idea as it may have seemed on paper to put Musial and Obama together, sports and politics don’t need a forced interaction. Obama and Musial have effectively nothing to do with each other, especially with the President in a Chicago White Sox jacket. Yes, we know what he was doing out there, but what was he doing out there next to Stan Musial?
And then, just like Posnanski said, it was over quickly, and then it was on to a mediocre game, as All-Star Games always are (yes, they “matter” now, but the ASG and the World Series make as much sense interacting with each other as, um, Obama and Musial). And somehow, the fans of both the Cardinals and baseball history come away from what should have been Musial’s moment feeling cheated.
We’ll go back to Posnanski for the last paragraph, because there’s really no way to express the proper sentiment any better than this:
You know who represents the Baseball All-Star Game? That’s right: Stan Musial. And the night should have been about him. It was his town. It was his time. it was his game. There were other terrific Cardinals there — Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst and so on — and they should have been a bigger part of the night too. But mostly it should have been about Stan the Man, Baseball’s Perfect Knight, who played the game as well and with as much purpose as anyone ever. The night was touching — it couldn’t help but be touching — but Bernie did have it right too: It was also kind of sad. I cannot help but wish now that everyone had stuck to their job — President Obama to fixing the economy and making the world safer, Stan The Man Musial to reminding us what baseball can be about.