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quick now and try again, with the words that remain

even though stan musial stopped playing before my dad started high school, i found the news that stan was suffering from alzheimer's saddening. even though he's 90 years old - almost certainly longer than i will live - alzheimer's is a terrible disease. if you haven't experienced it in your family, count yourself lucky.

if you want to know what it means to have alzheimer's, you should pick up a copy of st. louis native jonathan franzen's collection of essays "how to be alone" and read "my father's brain." the essay is available online through the new yorker website for those with a subscription. if anyone has explained the meaning of alzheimer's better than that, i haven't read it yet. 

we've watched stan's slow decline over many years, as his public appearances become less and less frequent, as he is more often seen only sitting down, escorted in a golf cart. though he has aged with incredible grace, it is painful and cruel to watch an athlete famed for his speed and character outlive his body and, now, his mind. 

something about stan's humanity translates without even knowing him. a website full of people mostly younger than me expressed outrage at having his character impugned by a recent blog post whose factual authority barely rose above a rumor. while i hold nothing against other ex-cardinals, i somehow suspect we wouldn't have gotten quite the same response if someone blasted, say, tim macarver or vince coleman. with the possible exception of red schoendienst, i can't think of another cardinal on whom such an attack would have aroused that kind of ire from a bunch of youngsters, mostly born after musial qualified for social security.

i don't think i can write anything about stan better than what joe posnanski has already said - a problem i find frequently when i write about baseball. even as his strength ebbs and his mind slows, with plaques slowly enveloping his neurons, i fear the passing of time will steal away what made stan who he was: his constancy. stan has always been the same man to me: whether he was taking the time to teach a rookie from a rival team a few hitting tips in the cage or amusing a child by playing the harmonica for him, stan has always been a quiet, unassuming man whose "aw schucks" demeanor defied irony or faux modern sophistication, or pretense, and without veering into the world of the forrest gump-like ignoramus.

i hope no one finds it disrespectful that i speak frankly about stan and death. we spend a great deal of time talking around death, without recognizing its eventuality. a struggle with alzheimer's can be long or short, but until there's some major shift in medical expertise, it ends in the same way. stan is already 90 years old, and has lived as full a life as any of us can imagine. as much as anyone who plays a child's game with a stick and a ball can change the world, stan has, by the example of his character.

maybe paul simon asked the wrong question. maybe he should have asked, "where have you gone, stan musial?" his name doesn't fit the meter of the song, but maybe we are losing something more important with stan. stan musial marrying marilyn monroe would be like a dairy farmer putting a flamingo in the barn.  instead of missing the lightning-exciting new yorker that dimaggio was, maybe what we've lost as a nation is a link to the cheery, good-hearted midwesterner, steady and sure, selfless and quiet. we've forgotten how to appreciate simplicity as a virtue, rather than a derogatory word.