Red Sox Memories: The Man and The Kid as cross country rivals
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals do have a connection and it is with their two superstars – Stan Musial and Ted Williams. Now a brief look at both.
In the 1940s, the rivalry on a personal level was Joe DiMaggio versus Ted Williams. Both were the stars that shone brightest in the American League in that period with DiMaggio’s New York Yankees having a virtual entitlement to the World Series. In 1941, two accomplishments happened that linked both in one year as Williams hit .406 and DiMaggio had a 56-game hit streak. In the background was another rival in St. Louis.
In the 1950s, Williams and the left-handed hitter with the unorthodox corkscrew hitting style were the elder statesmen stars of each league. Stan Musial in the National League and Williams with Boston. Both had similar beginnings with a humble almost in bleak poverty youthful home life. But Musial was reticent and humble – the quiet superstar – no there goes the greatest hitter that ever lived from Stan The Man.
Musial was a dead arm lefty pitcher with a penchant for hitting and that was his pathway to the majors. Arriving in 1941 for a cup of coffee, Musial hit .426 in just 12 games. The following season Musial hit .315 and then came the first of seven batting titles in 1943 with a .357 average.
The statistical accomplishments for Musial are staggering. In 22 seasons, he retired with a lifetime .331 average and Williams topped that with .344, but one fewer batting title. Musial had 3,630 hits – equally split between home and road and Teddy Ballgame 2,654, giving up 4.5 years to the military. Musial missed just one season during World War II.
Musial and Williams met head-to-head in one World Series and numerous All-Star games. For Williams, the 1946 series was brutal with a .200 average and just a lone RBI. Musial was a shade better with .222 and four RBI. The All-Star accomplishments of both are significant when the game had far more emotional value than the camaraderie game of today.
The 1941 game was won with Williams clocking a three-run home run in Detroit for a walk-off. In 18 All-Star games, Williams hit .304 with four home runs and 12 RBI. Musial also had his own walk-off in 1955 when he slammed a home run off Red Sox hurler Frank Sullivan to win a game in the twelfth inning. In 24 All-Star games – some years two were played – Musial hit .317 with six home runs and ten RBI.
I followed both players daily in the box scores in the 1950s when your source of information was The Sporting News, Sport Magazine, or The Baseball Digest. No social media or 24/7 blanket coverage. You would get snippets and the occasional rare Game of the Week coverage. Maybe some film highlights but that was it.
In 1959, both had an unusual occurrence – failure. Musial hit just .255 for the season and that was the first time he slipped under .300. Williams sunk even further hitting .254 and likewise his only under .300 average. Then came the rebound. For Williams it was immediate and for Musial, it took a bit longer.
In 1960, Williams went into retirement with a flourish hitting .316, but slammed a remarkable 29 home runs in just 310 at-bats. For Musial, his rebound was not as dramatic at .275 but in 1962 he hit .335 at 41-years-old. The next season “The Man” slipped back to .255 and retired with his three most valuable player awards to Williams’ two.
Why “The Man” nickname? Musial captured that great nickname thanks to the fans in Brooklyn who would see him come up and say that man again. In 163 games at Ebbets Field, Musial hit Dodger pitching at a .359 clip with 37 home runs and 126 RBI. And home runs are of interest.
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Williams finished his 19 seasons with 521 and led the American League four times. Musial certainly had power but it did not appear until 1948 when he hit 39 home runs. Prior to that, Musial had just 70 in five and a fraction seasons. Musial finally closed the book with 475 and never won a home run title, but did lead in doubles eight times and triples five times.
Defensively, Musial played a thousand plus games at two positions – first base and primarily left and right field. Musial was handicapped by a dulled left arm injury in the minors where one season he won 18 games. Certainly a more valued defensive player than Williams and savvier on the basepaths. Physically, Williams was well above “The Man’s” six feet and 175 pounds.
I was fortunate enough to finally get to see Musial in person and what a display he put on. The old Polo Ground in New York City with the hapless Mets playing the Cardinals on a Sunday afternoon in 1962. Musial, who once hit five home runs in a double-header, had his stoke going. Musial hit out of a corkscrew stance, but that altered when the pitch was on the way. That day, Musial hit three home runs and had four RBI.
In retirement, both took different paths. Williams attempted being a manager and did win Manager of the Year before moving on to business interest. Musial actually took over as general manager of the Cardinals in 1967 – a year the Cards beat Boston again. Musial stayed on for just a year before replenishing duties to Bing Devine and concentrating on his business interests.
In their personal lives, both followed different paths with Musial far more sedate with a firm marriage and no children severing his head after his demise or plundering his baseball artifacts for profit. Musial was respected as a quiet clubhouse player and was never tossed from a game.
The post-baseball career Musial was as successful as the baseball version. Musial was quite successful as a restaurateur, hotel operator, and real estate invester, but also service-oriented being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Musial personally met presidents and Pope’s.
Williams was larger than life and an American icon as a war hero, batting hero, boisterous, opinionated, stubborn, and a personality that in public was the complete opposite of Musial who was the personification of humble and gracious. Where they were attached is in the science of hitting. Both studied pitchers and diligently applied their craft to the unfortunate moundsmen. Thankfully, I got to see both play.
Sources: Multiple books on both but would suggest “Stan Musial: An American Life” by George Vecsey, “Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man” by James Giglio, and “Stan Musial: The Man’ws Own Story” by Bob Broeg. “The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams” by Ben Bradlee, jr.