The Gospel Truth

The Man in the First Pew…on the Right | September 26, 2010

Imagine going to a church that has a famous celebrity attending… that is if celebrities actually go to church.

In my parish we have well-know conservative author and commentator Phyllis Schlafly.

While she is popular in conservative and Republican circles, she does not have  the universal acclaim of baseball’s Stan the Man Musial.

Being in the same church as Stan reminded me of the first time I ever met a classmate, named Eddie Smith.  He had just moved to Forest Hills from St. Louis with his sister and widowed mother, so he could start our 4th grade.

At that time I knew only two things about Missouri—Harry S Truman and Stan Musial…and not in that order.

As a long time baseball fan, seeing him kneeling and praying is more than a Cooperstown high for me.

Being from New York City, I only had the opportunity to see him play one game.

It was in May (see comments) of 1957, the last year the Dodgers were in Brooklyn.  About 10 of us had been invited as members of the “Patrol Boys” squad.

We had a couple chaperons who drove us to Ebbets Field.

Our seats were way up in the centerfield bleachers, over-looking Bedford Avenue.

In the bleachers with the Patrol Boys

The score was tied at two going into the bottom of the 9th when Charlie Neal homered right under our seats for a walk-off two-run homer.

Of course none of us knew what a walk-off homer was.

Actually we could have called it a go-homer, which I think is an improvement on the baseball neologism.

Stan played first but fortunately for Brooklyn he didn’t do anything memorable.

Stan peppered their right field fence

He always knocked the Bums’ brains out and became one of the most revered sluggers ever to pepper the 40’ right field wall with line drives.

Played 1st that day!

When we moved to St. Louis and I was teaching History, including my Baseball course at Maryville College, I was introduced to a sportswriter, name Jerome.  I can’t remember his last name.

Jerome was dying of cancer when I interviewed him

He told me some great Mickey Mantle stories but the one that impressed me the most was about Stan the Man.

That is one of the great nicknames of all times.  It is simple, like its beholder and yet it is pregnant with depth of meaning.

According to Post-Dispatch writer, Bob Broeg, who authored probably the best biography on Stan, it had been the Brooklyn fans that gave this name to Stan.

Jerome believed this to be an error.  He told me the story of a Cardinal fan living it Flatbush, which is akin to a Jew living in downtown Damascus.

His name was Ace Sullivan and he had made a sign that simply said The Man, and he would wave it around every time Musial came to bat.

In those days the Cardinals played 11 games in Ebbets Field, so he did have ample opportunity to show his sign.

Broeg didn't believe Jerome's story

When I told him about Jerome’s story, he promptly dismissed it.

Now it is impossible for me to verify.  I had never heard it before and nothing since.

Jerry died shortly after we spoke and Ace is most likely gone as well, leaving me as the sole repository of just what might be a revision of accepted baseball history.

Even though we attended the same church, I was not introduced to Stan until about 1978.

My friend, Terry Elling, a member of the LA Dodgers Fan club came to visit us one spring.

When she spied Stan on the other side of church, she compelled me to introduce her.

Terry wanted to meet Stan

I went outside just before Mass was over and found our pastor, Monsignor James Hartnett.  Well he and Stan were close and so I begged him to introduce us.

Stan and Monsignor Hartnett

I don’t remember the actual introduction but Terry took a marvelous picture of the two men, winding up before shaking hands.

I had forgotten about that picture until he was posted on the board, outside the sanctuary a few years ago at Monsignor’s memorial service.

Like the Ace Sullivan story, I was the only one around who knew the origins of the photo.

It was a little after our meeting that I was leaving Mass one morning and my rebellious one—#2 son Matthew was behaving like the stubborn mule he can be sometimes by refusing to come along.

Just before I nearly yanked his arm out of its socket, Stan who was following us gave a back-handed swing with a rolled up bulletin at the back of Matt’s head.

HE MISSED!

For years I have always got tickled when the Man, who could hit a 95 MPH fastball with aplomb and dexterity, could not hit a big-headed little boy at 2 MPH.  (Matt and I both wear size 7 and 3/4s size hats)

Stan fanned on the big-headed boy!

I would always run into Stan and his wife Lil in Florida and other places.  But I never talked to him.

Once at the party prior to the annual St. Louis Baseball Writers’ Dinner, the Musials were seated at a table.  I think I was talking to Tim McCarver when Stan motioned for me to come over to them.

I did so and knelt down on one knee as he asked me:

Who Are You?

Well I told him and the next week I saw him going into church and he said:

Hi Bob!

Stan came to a number of our Browns Fan club affairs.  Of course he wanted to play the harmonica.

He once quipped that he wore his hair down the nape of his neck because I am a musician.

I was seated to his right as he stood at the podium and got into a beautiful rendition of Take Me out to the Ball Game.

I told him after he finished that I had noticed that he closed his eyes when he played, so deep was his melodic concentration.

Closed his eyes

I am not sure he was aware of that but when he nodded, I opined I’ll bet there are a 1000 former National League pitchers who wished you had closed your eyes when you hit!

That same evening several of our ol’ Brownie players came over to Stan like one would approach a Hollywood rock star.

After he finished signing and chatting with the other players, I told him Gee Stan, if you had played with the Browns you might have been somebody.

Lil Musial has been in a wheelchair for some time. For many years her dutiful husband had pushed her around, struggling on his sore knees.

After Mass one Sunday, my late friend John Tines ran up to me and showed me a baseball autographed by Stan.  His eyes lit up like a schoolboy’s.

He had helped Stan put away his wife’s wheelchair in their late-model Cadillac with his # 3000 license plate.

I must admit I was a bit envious of his good fortune.

Some months later as I am leaving church, I see Stan pushing Lil and struggling a bit with his achy knees. They have been married for 70 years!

Married for 70 years!

I said to myself that I did not want to be obsequious about it but I will help him only if no one else does.

Well I watched as he got ready to put it away.

So I rushed over to assist.  By that time three other people also offered to help.

He said to me You know I give baseballs for helping me.

I said, No, Stan, I didn’t know that!

Well he gave signed balls to all four of us…even though I was the one who folded the chair…I was the one who lifted it into the trunk!

When Stan gave me my reward, I looked at the ball and then said to him with my inquisitive look: Stan this says ‘Red Schoendienst.’

He reacted with the look of doubt for a millisecond and then laughed.

Like a junk ball pitcher I had slipped one by the man…my big-headed son and me.

A few years ago I helped an elderly woman with her oxygen apparatus.  As I closed her car door, I almost asked her if she gave baseballs…!

Stan is fast approaching 90.  He and a lesser-known Pole, the late John Paul II were born in the same years. (My mother and Mother Teresa were the same age—1910)

I would not say that this St. Louis Man of Summer is in the Dylan Thomas stage of his tragic ruin, but the years have been hard on him.

Now his grandchildren go to Mass with him and they help both of them get into their car.

Getting old is not for kids.  (I got it made because emotionally I am only 12 years old.)

As a footnote I have always been uncomfortable with the press’ christening of Cardinal slugger, Albert Pujos as El Hombre, which in my limited Spanish, means, The Man.

Me and the Man

To Albert’s extreme credit I recently read that he has told the media to can it for the very reason I just stated.

In my book, Albert qualifies for a seat at Stan’s table.

For me there will only be one man…and he’s in the front pew on the right side of Church.

TRIVIA QUESTIONS:

1) What similar statistical anomaly does Stan share with old Browns pitcher Ned Garver?  (One is for hitting and the other for pitching)

2) What football family provides a college football common denominator for Rockies teammates Seth Smith and Todd Helton?

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6 Comments »

  1. GREAT STORY ABOUT STAN THE MAN. I AM NOT A BASEBALL BUFF BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO BE ONE TO ENJOY THE TRUE STORY.I HAD TO LAUGH WHEN I READ ABOUT THE MAN WHO WASN’T AS WELL KNOWN AS STAN AND HE IS POPE JOHN PAUL. PAX

    Comment by Mary B — September 26, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  2. Great blog Bill- go rams!!

    Comment by Patti — September 26, 2010 @ 8:44 pm

  3. Bill,
    Your memory is getting better. Here’s the box score of that 1957 St. Louis-Brooklyn game, won 4-2 by the Dodgers on a two-run homer by Neal in the bottom of the ninth:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BRO/BRO195705040.shtml

    Comment by Jim Rygelski — September 27, 2010 @ 12:16 am

  4. Great story Bill. I printed it off for my baseball nut husband.

    Comment by Glenda Amey — September 27, 2010 @ 1:59 am

  5. One of your best entries to date, Pop. Well done! I whiffed on the first trivia question, but the answer to the second one is that both of the aforementioned players (current ballplayers for the Rox) were backup QB’s at the University of Tennessee.

    Comment by Matt — September 27, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  6. Matt:

    Close of #2—but Smith went to Ol’ Miss—does that help at all? BB

    Comment by bbprof — September 28, 2010 @ 2:34 pm


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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at bbprof@sbcglobal.net

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