Today I’d like to respond to two stories from yesterday, neither of them Mets related because, well, they haven’t done anything.
The first is Stan Musial’s funeral and the second Frank Thomas’ comments from the White Sox’s annual fan convention.
In different ways, both speak to baseball’s history in a profound light. Both return us to a cleaner, simpler time.
Let’s look at Musial first. Here was a three-time MVP and seven-time NL batting champion with 3,630 hits fr which 475 were home runs. But, numbers never gave us the true appreciation of this man.
I once saw him in the dining room at old Busch Stadium and thought of introducing myself and shaking his hand, but there was a crowd around him and I didn’t want to intrude. I told one of the Cardinals writers and he said, “You should have, Stan wouldn’t have mind.’’
Reading of his graciousness this week and the thoughtful eulogy from Bob Costas, I have little regret. I’ll always wish I saw him play. Even more, I wish I approached him that day.
One point Costas made was Musial didn’t have a singular achievement, such as Ted Williams hitting .406 and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Musial also didn’t have the advantage of playing in a media center sof New York such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and DiMaggio, or chasing a record like Hank Aaron. Timing and location mean a lot, but not everything.
I’ve read much of Musial’s humility and accessibility to his adoring fans, of his lack of celebrity and long-time identity with St. Louis. Had there been free-agency during Musial’s era, it would have been incomprehensible to me of leaving St. Louis, even had it meant more money and notoriety.
Other stars craved attention. Barry Bonds – it was reported – turned to steroids because he was jealous of the spotlight shone Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Musial never would have thought to do so.
DiMaggio, if you read the book by Richard Ben Cramer, revealed a tortured, conflicted and selfish soul, who desperately sought attention and adulation only to respond with aloofness.
DiMaggio would not appear at Mickey Mantle Appreciation Day without being honored himself. There are stories about how DiMaggio responded to autograph requests by saying he would if he was written a check, with his signature being the endorsement of the check.
I saw DiMaggio at Yankee Stadium several times, but not in a good light. I saw him refuse to get on elevators unless it was vacated. How dare the common folk rub elbows with DiMaggio.
The thing I found most detestable about DiMaggio was his insistence of being introduced at public functions as “Baseball’s Greatest Living Player,’’ a slap in the face to Musial, Williams, Aaron and Mays.
Statistically, each of these players surpassed DiMaggio in some categories, yet he insisted on that label? Such gall. It would have been incomprehensible to imagine of Musial insisting.
This isn’t about tearing down DiMaggio to build up Musial, but to illustrate the differences in their personalities and how they interacted with the public.
Musial, by all accounts, was a tremendous player and and even better person. He’s what we want our heroes to be.
Damn, I wish I shook his hand.
As for Thomas, I shook his hand, spoke with him and watched him play. I never hesitated to pick him when the baseball writers chose their teams for our home run derby pools.
Thomas is on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot and worthy of being a first-year inductee. Thomas, who noticed the backlash against steroid users, made it a point to say he took pride playing the game cleanly.
Indeed, he never failed a drug test, didn’t appear on the Mitchell Report list and didn’t hesitate to say he’d take a test at any time.
Sosa once said the same thing, but balked when challenged. Thomas would have said, “bring me the cup.’’
Musial would have said the same.