Conversations regarding underrated athletes always lead to a paradox:
The more "Player X" gets discussed, and the more people conclude the player is "underrated," by definition, the less underrated that player becomes.
Acknowledging this inevitable oxymoron, let me declare something really contradictory:
Stan "The Man" Musial, scheduled to be the centerpiece of tonight's All-Star Game ceremonies, is the most underrated superstar in this history of sports.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Elvis "The King" Presley and Muhammad "The Greatest" Ali all can take a back seat, partly because this is a baseball blog, but mostly because I'm riding shotgun with Stan "The Man" Musial.
"The Man." It can't be plainer. Coined by sportswriter Bob Broeg with the help of Brooklyn Dodgers fans, it so encapsulates Musial, a mortal who accomplished the stuff of immortals.
I'm not old enough to remember Musial being inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame, much less to recall even one swing of his career. But all anyone needs to do is read the testimony, watch the film and study the statistics to know how good The Man was.
From these accounts (check out this great bio done for SABR), Musial in his day was made from bits of contemporary players.
• Likability of Ozzie Smith.
• Respectability of Cal Ripken.
• Durability of Lou Gehrig.
• Swing-a-bility of Ted Williams.
Has anyone ever put a finger on why Musial, outside of St. Louis, isn't as celebrated like these players? Baseball fans have determined, for some reason, that Musial's legacy lacks a certain something. It's hard to imagine what, considering what he did. Never has one Man done so many things so well on a baseball field.• In his 21 full seasons, Musial appeared in 24 All-Star Games (tying for the record with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays).
• Musial has more total bases than anyone other than Aaron, ever.
• He's the first in history to play 1,000 games at two different positions (left field and first base).
• Once hit five homers in a doubleheader.
• Hit 37 more career triples than Mays.
• He's the first grandfather to hit a home run in a major league game.
• The Cardinals won the National League pennant in each of his first four full seasons (winning the World Series three times).
• He's the only player in history to finish his career in the top 25 all-time in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, doubles, triples, runs, homers and RBIs.
• This happened off the field, but he's the only general manager in baseball history to win a World Series in his only season on the job (1967).
• Playing his trusty harmonica, Musial led the Cooperstown crowd in a special rendition of "Take Me Out To the Ball Game" at Ozzie Smith's induction ceremony!
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Musial's lack of vogue might be due to a lack of flattering Ted Williams-esque biographical remembrances. I always looked at Musial as the National League's version of the "Splendid Splinter." Not a perfect analogy, but I think that's the fork in the road. Maybe Stan doesn't make quite as interesting literary subject as Teddy Ballgame.
Tonight, Musial can have his "Ted Williams Moment" at the All-Star Game. Musial is 88 years old and reportedly in declining health. It will be up to us to remember him in the proper context.
Then again, there's something to be said for being sport's most underrated superstar.
- Stan Musial
- Ted Williams