Adapted from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, August 2--9, 2010
STAN MUSIAL DOES THIS ORIGAMI TRICK WITH A DOLLAR BILL. HE FOLDS THE BILL ONE WAY, THEN BACK. He folds it again and again, never looking at his hands. He smiles throughout. If he's in the right mood, Musial might offer a corny joke to keep the time moving. Horse walks into a bar. Or, How do you know that God is a baseball fan? That sort of thing. He will break into his particular brand of baseball chatter: "Whaddya say! Whaddya say! Whaddya say!" After a few seconds Musial holds up the dollar bill and, absurdly, it has transformed into a ring. The audience always oohs with surprise. Musial will look surprised too. How did I do that? Then Stan Musial, with the tenderness of a groom, will slip the dollar-bill ring on someone's finger, wink and walk off to the happy murmur that he has inspired in people for most of his 90 or so years on Planet Earth.
It's a good little trick.
The question is, Why would a man learn such a trick?
And what does it say about Stan the Man that he's so good at it?
"Stan Musial," his onetime teammate Bob Gibson says, "is the nicest man I ever met in baseball." Gibson smiles. "And, to be honest, I can't relate to that. I never knew that nice and baseball went together."
THIS IS A STORY OF LITTLE STORIES. Small kindnesses. Quiet dignity. These are at the heart of Stan Musial. Even after all these years it is hard for people to explain exactly what Stan Musial means to them. Willie Mays, sure, that's easy: He means youth and a baseball cap flying off in a rush of wind and long-ago stickball games in Harlem. Mickey Mantle means tape-measure home runs and impossible promise and a body that could not hold up to the pounding and late nights. Hank Aaron means dignity and consistency, and a home run record pursued through pain. Sandy Koufax means high fastballs and low curves and a pause for Yom Kippur as the World Series began. Ted Williams means the never-ending quest for perfection and just the right pitch to hit.
But what of Stan Musial? There are few legendary stories about him. There are few baseball records he can call his own.
"Stan Musial didn't hit in 56 straight games," says Musial's friend Bob Costas, who began his broadcasting career with KMOX in St. Louis. "He didn't hit .400 for a season. He didn't get 4,000 hits. He didn't hit 500 home runs. He didn't hit a home run in his last at bat, just a single. He didn't marry Marilyn Monroe; he married his high school sweetheart. His excellence was a quiet excellence."