In 1999 baseball fans across the country—selecting the All-Century Team—voted Stan Musial the second best outfielder ever born in Donora, Pennsylvania on November 21. That's the rest of the country's problem. In St. Louis, and around Busch Stadium, he's ubiquitous; he holds most of the Cardinals records worth holding, appears on most of the lists he doesn't lead, and stands permanently at the ready in the form of two different statues on the stadium grounds.
He was, as the pedestal of the bigger statue has informed generations of Cardinals fans who never saw him play, "baseball's perfect warrior... baseball's perfect knight," a player who did nothing to discredit his team and a man who did nothing to discredit baseball. And perfection is somehow easier to forget than the more flawed brilliance of his contemporaries.
Given how frequently he's forgotten today, though, it's sometimes too easy to forget just how much he terrorized other teams, whose fans didn't have the privilege of forgetting about him while he was busily lacing his 177 triples and 725 doubles into the gaps of every National League park he visited. Even his nickname, so much a part of his identity that nobody in town will ask who you're talking about when you're talking about The Man, came from elsewhere; Brooklyn fans tired of watching him circle the diamond game after game are said by various sources (with various transcriptions) to have groaned something to the effect of "here comes that man again!"
That man—The Man—was an equal-opportunity groan-inducer, but his exploits against New York have proven especially durable. The most impressive day of his career came against a team a borough away from his frustrated Brookyn admirers—on May 2, 1954, Stan The Man hit five home runs in a doubleheader against the New York Giants, who would eventually run away with the National League and the World Series.
Game 1 saw the Cardinals lined up against the Giants' young staff ace, Johnny Antonelli, who would go on to finish 21-7 with an ERA of 2.30, and St. Louis had him on the run in a hurry—after a leadoff home run from Wally Moon, Red Schoendienst scored on a two-out base hit to make it 2-0. Musial's first plate appearance ended with a walk, and he was erased on a fielder's choice by the next batter. That was the only time the Giants would retire him in Game 1.
Musial homered in the third to make it 3-0 Cardinals, but the Giants roared back in the fourth inning, tying the ballgame on back-to-back doubles from Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin. The Cardinals got out of that jam when Willie Mays was erased on a double play, but back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning put the Giants up 5-4.
That's when Stan Musial stopped having a good game and started having a historic game. In the bottom of the fifth, after Red Schoendienst scrambled to first base on an error, Musial homered to put the Cardinals up 6-5; that lasted until the top of the next inning, when the Giants tied things up again on Irvin's home run.
After a single in the sixth inning Musial came up in the eighth with Giants swingman Jim Hearn on the mound and the game in his hands. Moon and Schoendienst were already on base when there went that man again—Musial hit a long home run, his third of the game and his sixth of the young season, to put the Cardinals on top for good.
In Game 2 the Cardinals took a mortal blow from the Giants in the fourth inning, when Leo Durocher's offense came to life and scored eight runs off two different Cardinals pitchers. Down 8-3, and with Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm in to close the game out, Musial got to work immediately, opening the fifth inning with a two-run homer deep to right field to cut the score to 8-6. In the seventh inning Musial touched Wilhelm again, hitting another home run to the same spot and bringing the Cardinals within one, but that's as close as they would get; the Giants brought in another run in the ninth inning and the Cardinals lost 9-7.
That Giants team would go on to win the World Series; Musial ended the season with a .330 batting average, 35 home runs, and 126 RBI. For most players that would be a career season, but it was only the fifth-highest OPS of his career. For most players five home runs in a doubleheader would be a defining moment, but like every individual thing Stan Musial did it's been lost in the sheer volume of Hall of Fame moments he collected in 22 years as the player who defined what it meant to be a Cardinal.
The full measure of Musial's achievement can't be seen from close up; it's when you pull back and view the Cardinals' entire record book that you get the picture. He's the Cardinals' all-time leader in games played by nearly five full seasons, in triples by thirty, in doubles by nearly 300, in runs scored and runs batted in by more than 500, in hits by nearly a thousand. He reached base safely more than 5000 times.
But what Stan Musial means to his team, his city, and his sport can never quite be captured by what he achieved. Nobody else hit five home runs in a doubleheader until Nate Colbert, the lone star of the hapless expansion-era San Diego Padres, managed the feet in 1972. A St. Louis native, Colbert mentioned later that he'd been in the stands for the first five-homer day back in 1954, when he was an eight-year-old who—like every other eight-year-old St. Louisan—looked up to Stan Musial.
And that's what Stan Musial means to the Cardinals, and to Cardinals fans, and even to those endlessly disenchanted Brooklyn rooters who donated his nickname. If you forget why people play baseball, or how baseball is supposed to be played, Stan Musial will remind you—baseball's perfect warrior, baseball's perfect knight.