The last thread to tie me to a long-ago childhood passed last Saturday, Stanley Frank Musial died. When Musial retired in 1963, there was an editorial cartoon in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch depicting Father Time on the pitching mound and old #6 walking away toward the dugout. Father Time was saying, "I was the only one who knew how to pitch to him."
When Kay and I lived in Springfield, Missouri our home was near the new Assemblies of God headquarters. Someone told me this land had once been a ballpark which was part of the Cardinals minor league system. The legend was that General Manager Branch Rickey visited one day and, while talking to someone with his back to the field, heard the crack of a bat. "Who was that?" Rickey asked. "Musial, a pitcher", was the reply; to which Rickey allegedly said, "not any more."
The years, as with legends, make exactitude impossible. So, let's say I was nine, although probably younger, really. In any case it would be over 60 years back, so forgive me if details are sketchy and inaccurate.
My dad and I had been to a game at Sportsman's Park at least once before, but it had been a day game and the Browns had been playing. As we walked from our distant parking place to the stadium I had asked whether our team was going to win. "No, the Browns are playing today."
This was to be my first night game.
I do vividly remember coming out into the stands and being overwhelmed with the beauty of the field and the lights and the crowd. And, it was my first introduction to the great Stan Musial (it would be a few years yet before he would be nicknamed "Stan The Man").
Things I remember about that game (or now think I remember):
We played the evil and despicable Dodgers from someplace called Brooklyn. Don Newcombe, a pitcher, was such a good hitter they used him to pinch hit (don't remember how he did). That he was a black man did not occur to any of us.
Red Schoendienst played second base. My father thought him the most graceful man he'd ever seen, but hated the way Red didn't put his glove on until the ball was almost to the plate.
The popular Enos Slaughter was in right field. The centerfielder I don't remember, other than to learn that the man my older brother had been named after-- Terry Moore, the best centerfielder in history -- had since retired.
In left field there was the great Musial. He'd been Most Valuable Player three times by then, and was and would be for another 15 years the heart and soul of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Later my dad would come home from Stan & Biggies restaurant on Oakland Avenue with a genuine, personally autographed photo of Stan the Man. About that time I begged my mother to buy me a 45 rpm record of the song, "Swinging Stan The Man", some of which I still remember.
In my teens I played baseball, it came down to first base because I couldn't run or throw; but I could hit so I played. Even then my right leg was a problem, and I had to learn to bat left handed. As a joke I started imitating Musial's unique hip swivel to get ready for the pitch. Got kidded about it -- until it worked.
There is one more thing about that first Cardinal game, we lost. Somehow the team rallied in the bottom of the ninth. As my dad always said, "never give up on anything until the last man is out in the last half of the ninth." Somehow, by some magical intervention to assure a 9 year old would always remember it, the great man came to bat with the game on the line.
Stanley Frank Musial hit an infield fly so high that even now I can see it rising above the light towers. It would have to come down. When it came down two things happened: Someone caught it and the game was over, and my father (from whom I learned most things about life) taught me that there would always be a next game and a man only fails if he gives up.