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1946 Cardinal jersey, signed by Stan Musial, especially for Jason Motte
My sister’s prized possession: 1946 Cardinal jersey, signed by Stan Musial, especially for Jason Motte

Stan Musial died today. And it made me cry.

Stan Musial, for those who aren’t baseball fans, is the greatest Cardinal who ever played the game. He played his entire career — 22  years — in St. Louis. His statistics are impressive, to be sure, as he was the consummate player. Off the field, he was reportedly humble, approachable, friendly and kind to all. He was married to his high school sweetheart, Lillian, who passed away in May 2012, for 71 years.

His accomplishments and his character were admirable, but that’s not why I cried.

My total obsession with love of baseball comes from my dad. I grew up on Cardinal baseball — Sundays we went to church, ate lunch and settled in to watch the Cards on TV.  As we watched, Daddy would explain things to me; he’d point out the break on the pitcher’s curve ball, he’d get just a little bit giddy when Lou Brock took a big lead off first base, and he was always awed by Bob Gibson’s fastball. When we traveled, he’d search the radio stations until he heard Jack Buck’s familiar voice, then we’d settle in and listen, cheering and groaning as if we were there.

But Musial was his idol, his all-time favorite player. I think they must have been a lot alike; both married their high school sweethearts, both kind, gracious, generous and known as gentlemen with character above reproach. Musial retired in 1963, probably a couple of years or so before I started watching baseball, so I never saw him play. But I heard my dad talk about him so much I feel as if I did.

We met him once, at his restaurant in St. Louis, on one of our yearly baseball trips. We asked for his autograph, and I don’t remember much, but I remember how nice he was. And his sense of humor when my brother, then probably four or five, began to tear up the photo he had just autographed.

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Sara in the Musial jersey and Robbie in Carlos Beltran’s All-Star jersey

This past November, Cardinal closer Jason Motte and his wife, Caitlin, held a benefit for cancer research, which we attended with my sister, her husband and their 11-year-old son. The silent auction featured many great items of sports memorabilia, mostly Cardinal-related. But the last item presented, the ultimate, was an authentic 1946 Cardinal jersey, signed by Musial.

When the Musial jersey came up for auction, I was not that surprised to see my sister’s hand go up, though the starting bid was more than she had said she’d spend. As the bidding became heated, her hand kept going up — along with my heart rate. She won the auction and the jersey was hers for far less here in Memphis than it would have sold for in St. Louis. Motte told us afterward that he went to Musial’s home to ask him to autograph the jersey especially for the event.

Brother-in-law Robbie, Cardinal closer Jason Motte, me, Sam, my sister, Sara, Jim with the Musial jersey
Brother-in-law Robbie, Cardinal closer Jason Motte, me, Sam, my sister, Sara, Jim with the Musial jersey

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She felt, as I did, the connection with Musial through my dad. It meant more than its monetary value,  it reflected a piece of our childhood, a legacy that we now share with our own children. As we all took turns trying it on, I imagined the smile that would have lit up my dad’s face when he took his turn.

So now I’m comforted by the idea that Daddy and Stan are talking Cardinal baseball in Heaven. And I’m sad about the loss of someone who impacted the life of someone I loved, and, therefore, my own.

Rest in peace, Stan the Man. And be sure and tell Daddy about the 2011 World Series.

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