For any kid who grew up in St. Louis in the 1950s, the one question that was never far out of mind was not whether or not you would ever meet the great Stan Musial -- you knew that moment would come, since he was immortal. But rather the question was this: What would you possibly say to a god?
Musial, who died this week, was our Galahad, our Achilles, our Hector -- a modest, decent man who did more than anyone to raise St. Louis to its reputation as a good sports town where the fans even clap for the opposing team's players. The inevitable moment of reckoning came for me a couple of years ago at a St. Louis Cardinals' spring training game in Florida. A friend ushered me into the owners' box, and there stood Stan, in his red blazer and loopy grin, talking with another Cardinals great, Red Schoendiest.
I had one chance, and I took it. It involved one of the most dramatic plays in baseball history. In the seventh game of the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the score was tied, 3-3, in the eighth inning. With Enos Slaughter on first base, Harry Walker hit a liner over Johnny Peksy's head into left-center. Slaughter careened around third and, incredibly, headed to home without stopping. Pesky took the relay throw, turned, and looked towards home.
The on-deck batter was Stan Musial, who had the best view in Sportsman's Park of the events that followed. "What happened?" I asked Stan. "Was it a single or a double? How did Slaughter score?" Musial's face collapsed into his crooked smile as he began to answer in his oddly wheezy, high-pitched voice. "Slaughter just outran the ball," he said. "Pesky threw it okay but it didn't have anything on it. Slaughter just outran it to the plate." Walker wound up on second with what surely would have been a single without the throw home. The Cardinals won the game and won the World Series. Musial would go on to his wonderful records and the Hall of Fame. But what lingers is the memorable photo of the play on October 15, 1946: an elegantly composed triptych of players in white -- Slaughter sliding almost nonchalantly, the catcher drawn up the line to catch the throw, only Musial standing and looking on. In one of the most memorable moments of his career, he was another fan with a view, like our own.