In the American League, there is a somewhat remarkable renaissance now compelling the attention of those with a sense of baseball lore.
George Brett not only has busted out of what was, for him, a four-year slump (three-sub .300 seasons); 10 years after he last won a batting title, he is leading the league again, with a .330 average.
Last year, he was a mere .282 hitter, horrendous for him, his worst average in 17 years with Kansas City. And at his age, 37, he was being counted among the league's back-sliding graybeards shuffling toward the sunset. You know, always with the gracious acknowledgement that he used to be a helluva hitter.
Brett is now illustrious again, and this is being noted, partly, because in Washington this week is a chap that would assure him that at 37 it could be done. It was at 36 that Stan Musial added his seventh NL batting title.
Musial is here lending his presence to one of the intermittent celebrations of the Washington Stan Musial Society, created by its idolatrous members for the specific purpose of worshiping The Man Himself; also the wondrous deeds of Musial in his 22 years with the Cardinals.
The society lent him to the White House for a few hours in the morning so that the resident first baseman there could shake the hand of the outfielder who also played a lot of first base for the Cardinals. Musial brought the old Yale first baseman, what else, an autographed first baseman's glove, Stan Musial model.
"And President Bush gave me this," said Musial, flourishing a handsome fountain pen with the presidential seal. "Isn't it a beauty?" Musial said.
Now verging on his 70th birthday, Musial is barely above his playing weight and on appearance could be confused with a designated hitter. He could talk, were he not as modest, of the satisfaction that he was a hero everywhere in the league.
He played the game better than most everybody else, which over the years built the affection for him; plus the admiration for those clutch hits out of that crouching corkscrew batting stance. There was a delight in calling him Stan The Man. Ted Williams called him "the only hitter I ever saw who still took the same swing with two strikes against him."
Of Brett, Musial was saying: "He's a good one, an all-around great player. Remember, he hit .390 the year he led the league. Brett's got going for him the thing that makes a big difference, he hits to all fields."
As a kid in Donora, Pa., Musial said his hero was Paul Waner of the Pirates, who punched the ball to left for big averages. "I wanted to be a .300 hitter too, so I started out punching the ball to left. But after the war, I changed my mind about that."
He changed his mind, he said, because he saw that guys like Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize were making the big money by hitting all those home runs. He said he decided to become a home run hitter too.
"I wanted bat speed, so I got a lighter bat, 33 1/2 ounces. I asked Louisville Slugger to make me a special model, a Jimmie Foxx barrel, with a thin, Babe Ruth handle. I knew whose bats to copy. That year, 1948, I hit 39 homers, 20 more than the year before. It paid off in bigger contracts."
He played the outfield for the Cardinals for three years "until Eddie Dyer asked me to take over first base 'for a few days.' Those few days stretched into seven years as a regular first baseman. I didn't care. I'd play anywhere as long as I could get to bat."
His crouch, he said, "helped me to cut down the size of the pitchers' strike zone. And in his late years he said he didn't suffer the same fate as the big hitters like Ruth and Foxx and Gehrig.
"Men who saw them told me those guys were getting killed on high fast balls. They had those big chests and were a little muscle bound and couldn't get the bat around like they used to.
"I was never chesty and stayed loose right to the end, hoping for a fast ball. The only time you saw me with a big chest was when that fellow made that statue of me, the one they put in Busch Stadium where it still is."
And it would never have occurred to Casey Stengel, the wizard of platooning, to bench Musial against left-handed pitching. They would have questioned Stengel's sanity. Stan The Man had a .331 lifetime batting average, and he didn't discriminate. He said "I hit .331 against right-handed pitching and .331 against left-handers." And you can look it up.