The Greatest Cardinal

When Babe Ruth died, many thousands came to Yankee Stadium for the viewing. Many of those paying respects brought along their sons. One father said something to the effect that he "someday wanted to be able to tell his son that he saw the greatest ball player who ever lived." I would not be surprised if something like this took place today at Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis where the visitation for the late Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal ball player who ever lived, is being held.

Nobody under 55 years old would probably remember seeing Musial play; he retired after the 1963 season. I remember my Dad saying that he saw the Cardinals play in St. Louis, at least once, so I would imagine he saw Musial. That's another conversation I would have liked to have had with Dad, "Tell me about Sportsman's Park, and the uniforms, and who played, and so on."

While I never saw him play, I was once in Musial's presence briefly. He was in Springfield for ball card show that my sister and I attended in the 80's. I was still working on my card collection in those days, but went to this show primarily for Musial's autograph. At the show, I bought a glossy photo for him to sign and when my turn came, I presented it to him and he signed. I said something like, "Thank you, sir," and I don't remember what he said, but he was polite, of course. Indeed, in the days since his passing, there have been as many stories told about Musial the gentleman as there have been about his Hall of Fame baseball career.

About 5 years or so after that meeting the time came for me to part with the bulk of my card collection. Finding a buyer was a little tricky for the market had begun to plateau or even fall off. And my collection was dominated by older cards, which weren't in vogue in the 90's. What you saw featured in the shops in those days (and today!) was high gloss and foil. But I did find a buyer for my cards and during the process of evaluating my cards, they discovered my affinity for the Cardinals and Musial. On the day they brought the check over, they threw in a little gift. A '53 Bowman of Musial. Not in the best condition, of course. There's a big crease right across Stan's schnoz, but still, it's a generous, and much appreciated gesture, even to this day.

Anyone who had seen Musial in some of his final public appearances knew that this day was coming. For years he held on as his contemporaries faded. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams are gone. There's a movie about Jackie Robinson coming out, but Jackie's been gone 40 years. Younger players like Willie Stargell and Kirby Puckett have been gone many years, yet Stan hung on for 92 years. Hung on until Saturday last.

I never saw him play and I won't be at the visitation in St. Louis today, yet I am fortunate that once, at a small ball card show in the 1980's, I laid eyes on the greatest Cardinal ball player ever.

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