Stan Musial’s birthday is today. I am sure that it won’t pass unnoticed. One thing St. Louisans do extremely well is revere their heroes. Today does not just provide us with an opportunity to honor a legend; it also gives us a chance to think about what Stan Musial means for St. Louis. Musial’s career, and life, can function as a powerful symbol for St. Louis today, and St. Louis in the future.
Many have brought up St. Louis’ notable absence from the greater national narrative of revitalizing urban giants. Stan Musial, though widely considered to be one of the greatest ballplayers of all time by those who know a lot more about baseball than I do, is rarely mentioned in the “greatest” conversations. This oversight provides fans a great opportunity to rally around the Man, and to get worked up when inferior players with superior flash steal accolades that he deserves. To my knowledge Stan has never complained publicly about his lack of recognition. I’d like to think he doesn’t mind it at all.
It’s not that something is missing from Stan’s legacy. On the contrary, one could argue that his legacy would be incomplete if he hadn’t been overlooked. Stan spent a long career showing up, playing hard, and going home afterwards. He considered himself lucky to be able to do so, and to do it well. That was all he needed. Had he been more of a prominent figure, something special about him would have been lost. His legendary wholesomeness just wouldn’t play right as an ESPN feature story, and it would open him up to undeserved cheap shots and cynicism. He lives well in the shadows. I mean that as a compliment.
But back to St. Louis. All of us who love this city know that there is a lot to love. While one can rightfully complain that outsiders don’t recognize this enough, it might be for the better. Maybe we can’t form as compelling a narrative as Detroit or New Orleans. Maybe that’s OK. Just as Musial wouldn’t be Musial if kids were wearing Stan the Man sneakers and he was making guest appearances on sitcoms, maybe St. Louis would lose something special if all of a sudden every directionless college grad wanted to move here to check out the scene. I just don’t think St. Louis would feel right as a trendy city. At least, I know I enjoyed talking about how great Cards fan are a lot more before I started hearing about it on every national broadcast.
I am not condemning St. Louis to being a cow town, or rejoicing in mediocrity. While I have high hopes for where we are headed, I am also comfortable with who we are. I know St. Louis is a great city. Although perception in many cases becomes reality, I do not necessarily need to convince others of St. Louis’ greatness. Let’s learn a lesson from Musial. He did what he did, and he did it extremely well. St. Louis does a lot of things well, but not everything. Just as no one stat encompasses Musial’s greatness, the beauty of St. Louis doesn’t fit on a postcard. We may never be the premier city in the country, but, to paraphrase something the great Joe Posnanski said in reference to the great Musial, I think this city will see a better future if we just try to “hit baseballs into gaps and run hard out of the box.”
Let’s make November 21 Stan Musial day. Let’s enjoy the fact that only we know about it.
*If you haven’t read Posnanski’s tribute to Musial, do so now. It might be my favorite piece of sports writing.