ST. LOUIS — He has Alzheimer's disease and turns 92 years old in a month, so he doesn't always appear at his best, but Hall of Fame slugger Stan Musial looked pretty darned good Thursday night at Busch Stadium. Spry, alert, "there." Mostly. And happy. Happy to see the fans and players before the St. Louis Cardinals played the San Francisco Giants in Game 4 of the NLCS. Happy to still be a part of things after all these years.
Musial rode in a golf cart around Busch Stadium's warning track before the first pitch and delivered a game ball to Cards manager Mike Matheny. And even though he was preparing for his start at the time, Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright took notice of the legend in his midst:
"Normally when I'm doing my pregame warmup," Wainwright said, "I don't really pay attention to anything that's going on. But I stopped and made sure I slapped and acknowledged 'Stan The Man.' What a huge figure in this town and for the sport of baseball. And I have so much respect for what he did here."
In many ways, Musial is the most underrated superstar in Major League Baseball history. Overshadowed by Ted Williams, not fast like Willie Mays, not as powerful as Hank Aaron. Not as famous as Joe DiMaggio. But in their lineup. He played in the Midwest and not on a coast. He played in 24 All-Star games but too few World Series to get big media attention. He didn't hit 500 home runs (475). But he is 12th in career Wins Above Replacement. He's The Man.
But he's also pretty much a god in St. Louis. It's sad, though ... he seems to be taken aback and bewildered by Bruce Bochy coming forward to shake his hand in the photo. We'll be so much better off without Alzheimer's. And we're really better for having a chance to see one of the 10 or 15 best ballplayers ever come out to the playoffs to say hello.