Baseball Column

The lesson learned from the ‘Quintessential Cardinal’

By Chuck Fiebernitz | Jun 21, 2012
Photo by: MLB Quintessential  Cardinal  — Stanley Frank “Stan the Man” Musial.

A long time ago, a middle school “hot-headed” catcher learned one of his greatest lessons.
This catcher had a tendency to argue with umpires a lot. His view if a call went against him was to let the umpire know.
OK, you might have guessed already that the “hot-head’ was me.
Here is the story. I got called out on a pitch that was in my opinion so far outside, I couldn’t have hit the dang ball with a telephone pole.
Well, that’s exactly what I told the ump and I couldn’t even put a period on that statement when he ejected me from the game.  It was my first and my only time I was tossed in my playing career.
As I packed up my gear, my coach Ron Rolack told me that I had to leave the field and go stand in the parking lot.
Now, my dad was in attendance. I emphasize the word “was.” As I got to the parking lot, I saw my dad leaving in his car.
It’s at this point I realized the error of my ways and that I would answer to my dad when I got home.
But as his car disappeared, I suddenly realized my ride home just left the parking lot.
When the game was over, I walked the more than two miles home lugging my gear.
I really had hoped my dad would be in a forgiving mood. But the moment I came in the side door, I knew he wasn’t because he was waiting at the kitchen table with that “look” on his face.
Before my backside hit the wood (we had wood chairs), he grounded me for a month, then lectured me in a firm voice that always got my 100 percent undivided attention. But what paralyzed me with fear was he never blinked during his tirade. NOT ONCE!
He talked about sportsmanship, hard work, discipline and about some guy named Stan Musial.
He told me that Musial played 22 years for the St. Louis Cardinals and was voted to the National League all-star team a record 24 times.
It took me several years to figure out how that happened, but I wasn’t about to interrupt my dad, who was on a roll, with a question.
He added that Musial was regarded as one of the greatest players in the game, won seven batting titles, hit .331 for his career, had more than 3,000 hits (3,630 to be exact), was voted the NL Most Valuable Player three times and played with sportsmanship.
Now I must admit, all those facts about Musial went in one ear and out the other. All I heard was this guy called “Stan the Man,” was great, played for the Cardinals for a long time, had a lot of hits and was a good sport. Years later, as I became more of a historian of baseball, I learned all the specifics about Musial.
But what did stick in between my ears was when he pointed his index finger at me and asked, “‘Stan the Man’ played more than 3,000 games in his Hall-of-Fame career and not once was he ejected from a game. And how many games have you played before you got ejected?”
And he even waited for my answer. Needless to say, I got the message — loud and clear.
Throughout the decades as I studied the history of baseball, I’ve learned so much more about Musial.
He is and always will be the “Quintessential Cardinal,” who had one of the most impressive careers ever in the game.  
When he retired after the 1963 season, Musial held 29 National League and 17 major-league records. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, the first year of his eligibility.
But my most favorite  fact about Musial is he played 3,026 games and was never ejected.
“Stan the Man” exemplified the values of sportsmanship, discipline, hard work, excellence and humility.
And my dad taught me about Musial at an very early age, and I’m so thankful he did.

Comments (1)
Posted by: James Swan | Jun 26, 2012 20:23

Mr. Fiebernitz: Great column on "Stan the Man," as were your previous columns on baseball icons Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Roberto Clemente. I believe "the Man" nickname was coined by Brooklyn Dodger announcer Red Barber in the 1940s on a day when Musial was enjoying his usual incredible success against Dodger pitching. You've captured the essence of Musial, a true sportsman who was liked by everybody, including opponents. Well, there was one exception: my grandparents, who lived 8 blocks from Ebbets Field and lived only for the Dodgers. In fact, they suspected Red Barber was a closet Cardinal fan since he said nice things about Musial. They thought he should say nice things only about Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, Gil Hodges et al. But when pressed, even they had to admit "the Man" was a pretty fair hitter. If only he had been a Dodger!

Keep up the great work. Who's next on your list? How about Mays & Mantle and the perennial New York argument about who was best.

Jim Swan, Waynesville, NC;

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