Baseball lost a pair of greats this weekend as both Stan Musial and Earl Weaver have died. The two legendary figures left indelible marks on the game.
As we sit here in January, desperately missing the game we love and anxiously aching for players to merely report to camp, it takes a day like Saturday to realize just how great baseball can be when played at its highest level. People like Musial and Weaver are exactly the reasons that baseball is great, which is why we miss it so.
Most of us never had the pleasure of watching Musial play live, but he was the definition of an inner circle Hall of Famer. Things that immediately pop into mind when thinking of Musial are his 1,815 hits at home and 1.815 hits on the road, his seven National League batting titles, his perpetual appearances at various incarnations of Busch Stadium, harmonica in hand while draped in a Cardinal red coat. But more importantly, Musial was known by one nickname above all others:
Longtime Brooklyn lefthander Preacher Roe said he had the best way to defense Musial: "Throw him four wide ones (walk him) and then pick him off first base."
Musial, who had exactly 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 on the road, had many of those away-from-home hits in cozy Ebbets Field.
"It seemed like I always did some great hitting in Brooklyn," he said. "The field there was close to the stands. Every time I started walking to the plate, I could hear the fans say, 'Here comes that man again. Here comes that man.' I think Bob Broeg and (traveling secretary) Leo Ward picked up on it and called me 'The Man.'"
Albert Pujols had arguably the best 11-season start to a major league career of anyone in baseball history, but as a testament to Musial's greatness he was just as good if not better than Pujols through a comparable time.
- Pujols in St. Louis (2001-2011): 7,433 PA, .328/.420/.617, 170 OPS+, 3,893 total bases, 3,125 times on base
- Musial's start in StL (1941-1953): 7,452 PA, .345/.432/.582, 172 OPS+, 3.746 total bases, 3,201 times on base
Musial won three MVP awards, and is in the top 10 all-time in games, at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, doubles, total bases, runs batted in, extra-base hits, runs created, times on base, and wins above replacement. But his value goes far beyond that. He was, simply, The Man.
Weaver was born to be a manager, and became one at the age of 25 in the minor leagues, before his playing career was even over. He managed 11 years in the minor leagues and though he never saw the majors as a player, he did so as a manager, and left quite a mark on the game.
He took over the Orioles in 1968, and his initial 15-year run in Baltimore was one of the more successful decades and a half in history. He led the Orioles to six division titles, four American League pennants, five 100-win seasons, and one World Series win. His Orioles teams from 1969-1971 won an unbelievable 318 games, never fewer than 101 in any one season, and though they won only one World Series are recognized as one of the great teams in baseball history.
Weaver was unafraid to buck convention and think differently. He utilized the platoon advantage with aplomb, and one of my favorite stats of his tenure in the dugout was that 21 times he used a starting pitcher on his day off as the starting designated hitter, if only to gain the advantage of being able to pick his DH based on the game situation upon the first plate appearance.
He was a fiery manager who was ejected 92 times in his career, a record before Bobby Cox broke it. Weaver was colorful and hilarious, as this infamous "Manager's Corner" segment and this run-in with an umpire show.
But he was also beloved. Weaver would return to Baltimore to manage in 1985 and 1986, but upon his initial retirement in 1982 this clip from Memorial Stadium shows how Baltimore loved their manager.
Rest in peace, Musial and Weaver. You are sorely missed.