The most beloved Cardinal of all, Mr. Musial led the National League in batting seven times in the 1940s and ’50s and was voted the league's most valuable player three times. His lifetime batting average was .331, his total of 3,630 hits ranks fourth all-time, and he was a perennial all-star. After spending the entirety of his 22-year career with the Cardinals, Mr. Musial retired in 1963 with so many firsts to his credit that he may have carved out a new category: the record for holding the most records at one time.
Of Polish and Czech extraction, Stanley Frank Musial was born Nov. 21, 1920, in Donora, Pa., a mill town south of Pittsburgh. He recalled learning to hit “with a broomstick and a ball of tape.” As a pitcher for mill teams and Donora High School, he caught the eye of a Cardinals scout. In 1938, Mr. Musial signed a contract paying him $65 a month.
Pitching in a low-level minor league, he struck out roughly a batter per inning but walked almost as many, and one of his managers recommended that the young left-hander be let go. Mr. Musial saved himself by taking over for an injured outfielder and hitting impressively. After hurting his left shoulder while trying to make a diving catch, he was finished as a pitcher. By then, however, he had earned a reputation as a fearsome batter.
During the 1941 season, he scampered up the ladder from Class C ball in Springfield, Mo., to the Class AAA International League franchise of Rochester, N.Y., and to the majors in September, where he hit .426 in 12 games with the Cardinals. At age 21, Mr. Musial started the following season as the Cardinals’ left fielder. That year, his team won 106 games to capture the National League pennant and then beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Mr. Musial won the first of his seven batting titles in 1943; the Cardinals made it to the Series again that season and in 1944, but not in 1945, when he didn’t play because he was serving in the Navy. He was sent to the shipyard at Pearl Harbor but did not see combat. He came back in 1946, and so did his team, winning its fourth pennant in its young star’s first five seasons of play.
The American League champions were the Boston Red Sox, and the World Series stacked up as a duel between Musial and another superb hitter, Ted Williams. However, they both under-performed, leaving the heroics to Musial's teammates Harry Brecheen and Enos Slaughter.
At the end of that season, Mr. Musial rejected a lucrative offer to jump to the Mexican League. The Cardinals rewarded him with only a $5,000 salary increase, but before his career ended they were paying him $100,000 a year. Although a mere fraction of what major league rookies earn today, that amount made Mr. Musial the highest-paid baseball player of his time.