Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Man and El Hombre

Can anyone under the age of 45 ever truly understand how great Stan Musial was? We all know the legend and the respect he commands. But can any of us rattle off the top of our heads why he was so good? Let's start with some general numbers.

3630 hits, 4th all time behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron.
7-time Batting Champ
3-time MVP
4-time World Champion
24-time All Star. (They played 2 a few years)
All this while missing the 1945 season in the Armed Forces.

Those numbers in themselves show great longevity and talent. Specifically, the 7 batting championships stand out. In comparison Ichiro, Albert Pujols and Todd Helton have the active highest batting averages in MLB today. They have a combined 4 batting titles. Musial has a .331 career mark and 475 homers to go with it. The only left handed batters with a .330 average and more home runs are Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

But there are two lesser know stats that make Stan "The Man". 475 home runs may not be all that many these days, but I'm sure Stan could have hit more if he wanted to. Stan retired with 725 doubles, THIRD all-time(Tris Speaker, Rose). If I were playing a video game, I would just push the up button more. Musial had the contact but played in an era where homers were not the phenomenon they are now.

This gave Musial 6134 total bases....second behind Hank Aaron. Think about it, nobody has touched the bases more than Stan Musial save one man. Not Ruth or Williams. Not Mays or Bonds. That my friends is an accomplishment worth remembering.

And then there is the man, the character that Stan Musial brings. It's hard to explain, but the quote that is engraved on his statue at Busch Stadium says it all:

"Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."

First, Albert hates being called "El Hombre." He says he has too much respect for Stan the Man to take the moniker given to him.

All the more reason to embrace it.

Albert (God willing) is probably only halfway through his career. And yet it is impossible to not dream of how the numbers will stack up when he's finished. Let's look at those.

First is the obvious 9 seasons with .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBI's to start a career. Yeah...nobody. Nobody has done it. First. Holy Crap. Albert says he is a contact hitter who happens to hit for power(Much like Musial with all his doubles). For one, I believe him. His average is what sets him apart.

Pujols career average to date is .333. He also currently has 358 career home runs. We know the names with a higher batting average and more career home runs: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig. Notice anything?

Pujols has the highest average and home run combination of any right handed batter. Period. There are four right handed batters that stick out. Rogers Hornsby with a .358 average (second all time) and 301 homers (he could have hit more). Joe Dimaggio and Jimmy Foxx both hit .325 with 361 and 532 homers respectively. I should also mention Hank Aaron had a .305 average with his 755 homers.

Now, the trick to this stat is that most career batting averages drop significantly at the end of a player's career when they don't quite have the skills they used to (Musial included). But who's to say Pujols won't hit for MORE average before its all said and done. My point is that Pujols already can legimately be in the conversation for best right handed hitter of all time.(since Manny and A-Rod wrote themselves off with their steroids use)

Then there is the man who is Albert Pujols. He is extremely charitable off the field. He is a deeply spiritual and faithful man but is not in your face about it. And he is a fiery competitor. The kind of guy everyone wants on their team because he makes everyone better. He will steal a base when needed, he will lay out on the infield for a ground ball. It is all about the team for Albert.

ESPN has dubbed Albert "The Machine." They are so wrong. It's Albert's heart that seperates him from the rest, both on and off the field. He is no machine to St. Louis. He is a man in every sense of the word. He is "El Hombre."

(This blog is inspired from several conversations with my Dad about the legacy of both Musial and Pujols.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Pardon me for a moment while I stand and applaud."

In the Summer of 1966 the All-Star game came to St. Louis and Busch Stadium. There, my father and grandfather watched Tim McCarver score the winning run as the National League won 2-1 in extra innings.

It took a while, but I was able to go to the All-Star game with my dad on July 14th. To say I looked forward to it would be an understatement. I was looking forward to celebrating baseball, honoring baseball, honoring St. Louis, honoring the way St. Louis celebrates baseball etc. And I was also going to be in the presence of President Obama who was close enough in the broadcast booth I could see him smile and wave...literally.

First, we saw the players drive by with their families in the red carpet parade. Pretty much we got pictures of the back of their heads but great pics of their families. We then got inside for batting practice which was actually really exciting. We were close enough to a couple homers that I got beers spilled on my pants at 5pm. Eh, whats a ballgame without the smell of beer? (I dislike beer fyi)

We got settled into our seats (middle deck one section off home plate). We had our hot dogs and I had my scorecard knowing it would be the most challenging scorecard of my life. When the Clydesdales came out we were ready.

The staring lineups were fun. First, to show some respect for the AL. Then to boo the only Cub. But mostly for Albert and Yadi. The applause given for Albert was incredible and he has said it even surprised him. That's saying a lot I think.

The biggest surprise came from the President himself. His video about serving America was pretty special. The living Presidents (Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush Carter) all joined together to support those who serve our communities and are All-Stars among us. A worthy cause and I'm glad it happened. I point that out because it took 10 minutes and pretty much used up all the time.

The one regret for all St. Louis fans was the lack of focus on our great hall-of-famers. When they walked out together I knew the ball was dropped. They should have been brought out individually. Ozzie Smith. Bruce Sutter. Lou Brock. Bob Gibson. Red Schoendienst. These men and ball players are as much the reason St. Louis is a great baseball town as any. Parents want to tell stories of these guys and want their children to play ball and live life in their image.

And finally there had to be more for Stan Musial. From the seat all you saw was him being carted out to applause. We didn't know Joe Buck was listing his credentials on the broadcast. There could have been a video montage before he came out or have all the All Stars greet him on the cart a la Ted Williams. Anything. The only thing I can say is it is hard to be top bill when the President is there. I think Stan, Lou, Red, Bob, Bruce and Ozzie know how much they mean to us, regardless of that one night.

The lineups were great. I enjoyed watching Ichiro, Jeter, Halladay, Buehrle, Papelbon and Rivera from the AL. I enjoyed Howard, Pujols, Buehrle, Molina and Franklin get the home town treatment. 20 years from now I will get to tell about all the Hall of Famers I saw play in one night. That is special.

The game itself was....a little dry. Good defense. Bad defense. A triple. Actually, they best be glad this particular game was played in St. Louis. I'm not sure other fans could have sat through it and loved it like we did.

In the end, it truly was the celebration of St. Louis Baseball I envisioned. I left that game thinking how glad I am to be a fan of the greatest game in the greatest town.