So Stan Musial was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on Tuesday, and there's no question he's a deserving recipient of the highest award in civilian life. The 90-year-old St. Louis Cardinals legend served our country in World War II, had an upper-tier Hall of Fame career and has been a great role model for both ballplayers and fans. "Stan The Man" is really more than just a nickname that conveniently rhymes.
The really interesting tidbit that I found coming out of Tuesday's news, though, is SB Nation's Rob Neyer pointing out that baseball has had eight former players honored — Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Buck O'Neil and Musial — while the other big three team sports only have a total of one. (And that lone recipient was Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, who was also honored on Tuesday.)
I find that disparity noteworthy because it is, in a way, a very simple manifestation of the way we hold our baseball stars in a higher regard than any other athlete. Think about it: When it comes to steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, it's the biggest baseball stars who are the only ones to be fully shamed and ostracized. Meanwhile, NFL players largely get a pass and no one would care if a basketball or hockey player were to become involved in a similar controversy.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this — yeah, I probably am — but I see the medal to be the other extreme of that dynamic. If a baseball player actually lives up to our unrealistic expectations that he be a paragon of virtue, we're going to recognize and reward him sooner than we might athletes from other sports. All of baseball's honorees check out, but where are the honors for someone like Jim Brown? How about Magic Johnson? Walter Payton or Johnny Unitas? (The medal can be awarded posthumously.)
Again, I have no beef with the eight ballplayers who have already received the medal. I just find that disparity a bit unexpected. Why does it exist?