The Gospel Truth

In God’s Locker Room | January 30, 2013

It seems that everyone I know is dying.

This weekend was a double duty affair.

There were two funerals, almost at the same time of men I had known briefly in this life.

One was Stan the Man Musial, who died in St. Louis a week ago Saturday.

Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial Dead

Baseball’s perfect knight

His funeral was one for the ages, approximating that of kings, queens and powerful heads of state.

How many home runs did Queen Elizabeth hit or how many RBIs did FDR have?

Everyone who even knows what a baseball  looks like wanted to be at our Cathedral Basilica for the  ceremonies.

I thought about going but I came up with a million excuses why I didn’t need to go.

Funerals are really for the living, not the dead.

During my life in St. Louis I had more than a few wonderful and personal moments with Stan.

One of which I recounted for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s commemorative issue on Stan the musician.

Playing the harmonica was just part of Stan’s personal charm. Probably the first baseball player, ever to become a “musician” after his playing days were over, Stan regaled several former players and family members of the old St. Louis Browns years ago during a club function with his stirring rendition of “Take me out to the Ball Game.” 

Sitting right next to him, I noticed how he closed his eyes while he played. This led me to quip to him after he finished: “I’ll bet there are a 1000 former National League pitchers who wished you closed your eyes when you hit.”  He gave me a big smile as if to say, “I’ll bet you are right!”  (PD 1/20/13)

He hit with eyes wide open

Since I never met anyone else in his surviving family my presence would serve them no great comfort.

The other man who died on Wednesday was Bob McAuliffe, the 79 year-old father of  good friend, Emmett.

Stan had suffered from dementia for a few years, as well as the loss of his wife of nearly 72-years.

Keeping within the baseball motif of this day, Bob McAuliffe took a page right of the demise of another baseball Hall of Famer, Jimmy Foxx, who choked to death on food during dinner at a restaurant.

Died the same way with friends

In a way Bob’s funeral was more personal and I think my presence at the visitation served as a modicum of comfort for the family members.

It goes without saying that Emmett’s dad was not as well know as Stan.

Instead of using the long row in the middle of the church, the powers that be chose to set up the wake in the vestibule of the Church of St. Clement’s on Bopp Rd.

It gave everyone the claustrophobic feeling that must have reigned during the Musial services.

It felt like an Irish fire drill.

While I do not think Bob ever met Stan, unless just in passing, one of the last days of their physical presence above ground took place in adjoining rooms at the Bopp Mortuary.

This caused Emmett to quip that his father was at last in Stan’s locker room.

I would say that, no it wasn’t Stan’s locker room.

It is God’s locker room where the good wait to see Him..

My wife stayed home and watched all the Musial events on the TV.

The principal speakers were well-known to me.

I didn’t hear Cardinal Richard Dolan, now of New York lament about his boyhood hero but fortunately on the way over to St. Clement’s I heard most of Bishop Richard Stika’s eulogy.

Stika will always be Monsignor Stika to me—Rick to his closest friends.

Monsignor Stika with Stan and Lil

He was our pastor at Annunziata Church in Ladue for nearly five years and a friend to the parish for seven years before that.

He was not only my confessor, but a friendly sparring partner in matters of faith and good humor.

At first I didn’t recognize his radio voice.

It sounded much more youthful than his 53-years would betray.

I  kept asking myself: who is this guy?

It wasn’t until he mentioned our parish and then Knoxville, where he is the bishop that I knew who he was.

His eulogy touched on Stan as a man, not the man.

Got three baseballs

Stan is a difficult man to describe, only because there are just so many words to describe, good wholesome and humble.

Stan is best remembered in his stories or stories about him.

The bishop mentioned the fact that Stan gave baseballs out to parishioners for helping him pack up his wife Lil’s wheelchair after a mass and put it in the back of his station wagon.

Stika said he had three himself.

Darn I only have one but I’ll bet Stika didn’t have the special moment I did!

One time I noticed no one was rushing over to help him after Mass.

So I did.

By the time I got there three other people had joined us.

I was the one who folded it!

I was the one who lifted and slid it back in the car!

But he gave everyone the same.

Sounds like one of Jesus’ parables.

I never particularly liked that parable.

When Stan handed me my ball, I held it up to read his autograph and looked quizzically at it and said to Stan: What’s this?  This says Red Schoendienst!

Wrong ball?

Just for a brief second I could see his thinking, did I bring the wrong…?

Then he smiled at me!

I had tweaked the greatest baseball player in the history of my adoptive home and in the parking lot of a church I shared with him for 40 years.

No wonder I only have one ball and Stika has three.

Stika finished with the pronouncement of the words every human being should beg to hear on Judgment Day.

Welcome, my good and faithful servant.

A shared faith

After the Irish wake, on the trip home I was able to listen to old friend Bob Costas give his version of Musial.

Bob was also the personal eulogist for his boyhood idol, Mickey Mantle who passed away several years ago.

After hearing what Bob said about Stan virtually every former or current player in the church wanted him to do them when their times came.

Bob’s finest moment in a long litany of perceptive insights and dramatic stories about Stan came when he compared his idol to the one that 90% of the attendees in the basilica had as children.

He told of a small dinner gathering at his home many years ago.

The Mick was near the end of his road.

Bob Costas Stan Musial

Baseball’s eulogist

His drinking had captivated his waking moments.

To make him more comfortable Bob invited the Musials to dinner.

Mickey vowed not to have even one drink that entire day or night because he didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of the man he respected so much.

After the Musials had left he and Bob were left alone to talk into the wee hours of the morning.

Mickey confessed that while he had more natural talent than Musial, Stan had gotten more out of his gifts than Mickey had because he was a better man than I was.

What a marvelous insight to another great but self-tortured athlete.

Mickey concluded that he envied Stan because Stan could always rest in the fact that he had gotten the most out of his talent.

Mickey, on the other hand, had a life of regret because he had never lived up to his super-human potential.

That was a sad commentary on a storied life that was filled with the Mick’s own personal demons.

Stan was an inspiration to Mick

What made Stan better than Mickey?

Many things I presume but I would suggest that Stan’s Catholic faith had a lot to do with his dual ability to hit a curve and walk a straight line with humility and dignity.

In just short time after that dinner, Mantle succumbed to liver cancer.

Bob McAuliffe just had just one eulogy–a seven page essay that did a comparable job in capturing a departed loved one.

The beginning was part roast and another part adolescent humor at the eccentricities of the man in the family.

From his loud sneezing to his inability to sing or even hum, Emmett’s words clearly rang out with the profound admiration of a faithful son.

The rest detailed his corny sense of humor that most children would never trade for having Johnny Carson as a father.

His athletic abilities, the family vacations that rivaled those of the Griswolds and all the wonderful things that make families what they were–incubators for love, faith and salvation, underscored the man’s pure humanity.

A lot alike

In the end that’s what life should all be about.

Since this was their mutual day of salvation, I poised a question to Emmett at the wake:

If they came in to see God together, did he wonder which one God spoke to first?

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6 Comments »

  1. Good question Bill, who would God speak to first? I would suggest that if I had to pick one it would have been Stan. I think the question from God would have been “Hey Stan play me a tune” All my joy of watching Stan performing on the field as I grew into a man is over-shadowed by this memory. Old ballpark Grand and Dodier, Left field Bleachers (a buck to get in, and 10 cents for a score card bring your own pencil), Stan is taking field practice, Curt Flood was in center and George Altman was in right. Stan caught the last ball from the coach along third base side I think. It’s time to go into the dugout and get ready for the game. We all were along the top of the wall yelling at Stan to toss the ball up, Yep; he did, right into my well used Rawlings ball glove. For a 15 year old that played the game, this was a prize. I do regret not seeking a signature during his life time. If you’re thinking, do I still have the ball? What do you think!

    Comment by Mike Ellington — January 31, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

  2. Enjoyed the article.
    Hello to Judy.
    Kathy/Fred

    Comment by Kathy Furrer — January 31, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

  3. Very touching filled with memories. Death comes to all eventually and I find myself expecting it every day. May I meet your two ball playing friend in heaven. pax

    Comment by Mary B. Lachney — January 31, 2013 @ 5:53 pm

    • You will have to go to the orchestra section—Stan was a musician when he died. BB

      ________________________________

      Comment by bbprof — January 31, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

  4. Is it just me, or has anyone else thought of taking up the cause for Stan’s Sainthood? RIP Mr. McAuliffe.

    Comment by Jeff — January 31, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

  5. Here’s a long comment from one of my favorite callers from WGNU radio:

    Hello Bill,

    I never knew either of the two decedents at all. I did, however, joust verbally with the son of one, Emmet McAuliffe, on numerous occasions when he had a show on WGNU. So in whatever sense children truly are a refection on their parents ( my parents were always reminding me of this when prevailing on me to be well-behaved ) I indirectly knew Mr. McAuliffe through his son and what a good reflection on his father is Emmet.

    I know his deep seated beliefs upon which I transgressed many a time and he was always the consummate gentleman. He never used the “power of the button” to belittle or marginalize my viewpoints, though it would have been easy enough to do so. I don’t think I ever felt I’d wasted my time calling in on his show and he above many others was responsible for my finally beginning to realize that just because someone didn’t agree with my ideas didn’t mean they were beneath my contempt. So in a way not only did I know your friend as I suppose you mostly did–through his son— but he also was an indirect influence on my life ( for the better ) without my ever having directly known him.

    So you have that problem too ( everyone you know seems to be dying )?

    Worse with me, all my favorite relatives die while my less favorite relatives continue to grind on and on and on…

    There’s the old Stenzel arrogance again! My father’s coworkers once contrived an award for him—an exacto knife blade embedded in a chunk of clear lucite. This was to recognize his razor-like tongue in being able to so succinctly cut to the heart of matters–particularly the failings of his fellow man. I take after him in many ways.

    Well Professor, I suppose soon enough we’ll both find out who gets spoken to first, middle or last. There’s a lot of thought going on right now that there may actually be no first middle and last or even far or near, only our perceptions of those concepts within a very narrow frame of causal relationships which can be woven together to seem “logical”. So maybe everyone is spoken to ( if there is truly any speaker to be doing this speaking ) simultaneously. Maybe it’s the sense of this simultaneity which we all share to a greater or lesser extent which makes religions speaking to us of eternal verities and of eternity itself so attractive.

    So when we’re constantly told tails of “going to the light” as if there were a journey towards something perhaps it’s only the layers of our perceptions of schemes of interrelatedness of “events” sliding away until we’re left with nothing but the ( possibly extremely boring ) truth of all things, that all things are really that one same thing looked at from different “angles” and only our return to that one simple truth underlying all other things we’ve ever thought we’d known—no locality, not temporality.

    There’s a lot our species is just on the verge of discovering and I must admit I’m growing impatient waiting. What more would we know already had the superconducting super-collider actually been built down at Waxahachie. I’m growing impatient with the kind of partisan pettiness which will blind a whole nation and imperil it’s continued existence over the fact one of the most potent tools in the discovery of powerful knowledge was to be named after a partisan adversary ( the “Destertron” was to be named after Reagan ). So now it’s nothing but a depot for the storage of dangerous chemicals used in the process of “fracking” natural gas out of geologic strata from which it was formerly un-recoverable. If we’d built the SSC we might already have sources of power for our power-hungry civilization which would make such schemes for scavenging the last traces of conveniently-located fossil fuels which seem to be so frightening to so many people totally unnecessary . The frightening aspects of the new putative energy sources would be so far above the heads of the constant nay-saying worry-warts that they’d take several generations to begin questioning the “wisdom” of pursuing those sources of power, and by then they’d be too entrenched in our way-of-life to seriously be questioned.

    I’m getting tired of watching as the entire world is turned into nothing more but the ancient us-and-them of the jews and the non-jew middle-easterners—lately organized into “islam”. Look at the demographics/relative fecundity and see who will be the ruling elite and who will be the eternally rebellious untermenschen as the entire earth awaits a cosmic thunderbolt to correct such massive stupidity–supernova, massive comet/meteor strike or geologic upheaval, it matters little what the instrumentality because even as you and I recognize and lament that everyone we know seems to be dying so too as civilized educated human beings we cannot help but notice that our whole world is mortal too–and no man knows the time…

    Every time someone we know shuffles off the mortal coil we all get the common feeling of a little cold place, our ultimate fate to assume room temperature, touching us deeply. We all get together to share the feeling by talking about everything except that. But it extends beyond the individual obliteration to the obliteration of everything we’ve known and enjoyed as “life”.

    We and we alone of all of either “God’s Children” or the Childrend of Mother Earth or whatever we prefer to think of ourselves as have the capacity and the inclination to think that widely about these issues of comings to an end. We know that the pachyderms have some sort of a nascent ritualistic feeling for their fallen comrades. This has been observed to many times. But they are not endowed with much of an ability to go beyond visiting their dead as they pass on their hunger-driven sojourns.

    Who knows what the cetaceans think? They live in such an alien environment they may as well be the space-aliens we like to amuse ourselves thinking about. Even if there ever were any it’s so unlikely they’re existing at the same “time” that the only way we’re ever going to meet any will be through their art and historical narrative if at all. Whatever else their laudable attributes somehow I just don’t see tursiops as ever creating any great arks of life to rise from the deadly gravity-well of the earth to preserve a billion years of hard-won life solutions from being smacked out of existence in what amounts to an instant of time on the cosmic scale. Only we can do that and never will if we allow ourselves to be trapped in a 6,500years out-of-date world-view for the rest of our short mean nasty time.

    We need a little breathing room and a little extra time before we can “figure it out”– if we’re ever going to. As you and I approach the inevitable we can lament all the things we might have but did not do. I don’t worry about it because I’m sure no matter what any of us does in life there are always things left undone.

    But as a species we have some unfinished business to attend to as well.

    Recently I saw part of a PBS program allegedly about Shuttle Columbia–but which seemed instead to be yet one more homage to the plight of the poor poor long-suffering victims of everyone–everyone from nazis to Pharaoh.

    Once-again the forward-looking rush to manifest human destiny is submerged in a 6,500 year old grudge against every human society which was not flooded out of their ancestral homeland when what we call the “Black Sea” assumed it’s current shoreline.

    This has got to stop and I can’t think of any better event to give each and every one of us a little tap on the shoulder in regard to this fact than each and every instance where we are encouraged to contemplate eternity upon the demise of someone near and/or dear to us.

    Just as that fellow at the recently-turned-green traffic light just ahead of you in traffic is never going to receive that engraved invitation to go for which he seems to be so patiently waiting, our species is not going to have it’s pending demise written in fire across the heavens plain as black-and-white ( apologies to the lyricist for the Grateful Dead Robert Hunter )—-or at least not until it’s far beyond “too late”.

    It’s time to wake up and smell the arabica. Muslim minarets may stretch towards the heavens and most of the named stars in the sky may have names reflective of their brief stewardship of the human interest in things beyond our immediate environs but I don’t see them being able to do much along those lines once they are all which is left of humanity outside of that tiny group of “thumbs” under whose economic “money-lending” they will be yoked. Those thumbs are not much hitching a ride on a star or carrying moonbeams home in a jar. The only time they seem to want to hitch a ride on a star is to cause it to fall all over the home state of a President who pushes too hard for a Two State Solution… And if there’s one thing we know about the likely author of that national manned space program catastrophe it was that the particular cosmo-zion-naut who would seem to be it’s logical author had, in the past, participated in another “suicide mission”—the raid on Osirak. Nobody expected to come home from that one alive.

    So while we lament the passing of our individual acquaintances and lost family members let’s not forget the thin tight-rope of existence upon which all known life balances. Let’s remember that whether we’re xians and believe a supreme being gave us dominion ( and with that power the responsibility of stewardship ) over all other life on earth or whether we believe that the rest of the more powerful and aggressive forms of life might have allowed us weak “naked apes” to survive because they sensed in us a tiny spark of the promise of their ultimate salvation from dangers of which their bloodlines had experience a “taste” many times before the fact remains—the death of all life on earth ( including us ) is imminent and we’re the only ones inclined to or able to do anything about it.

    As to who will be spoken to first or last:

    We’ll find out soon enough.

    Comment by bbprof — February 4, 2013 @ 5:22 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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