Cooper: Stan was indeed the man

Cooper: Stan was indeed the man

February 2nd, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Bishop Richard F. Stika, the spiritual leader of East Tennessee Catholics and head of the faith's Diocese of Knoxville, delivered the homily at the funeral last weekend for Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial.

The bishop was the pastor for Musial and his wife, Lil, at the Church of the Annunziata, his last assignment in St. Louis before being named a bishop in Tennessee.

"With a twinkle in his eye, with the sounds of his harmonica and with his kind smile, Stan truly lived out his faith, Bishop Stika, a rabid St. Louis Cardinals fan, said in the homily. "He was grateful for what he was blessed with and had a strong desire to share his gifts with others."

The average baseball fan may know only a little about Musial, who, after all, retired 50 years ago in 1963. He won seven batting titles, earned three Most Valuable Player awards, had a lifetime batting average of .331, stroked 3,630 hits, and belted 475 home runs.

When Stan the Man -- a nickname given him by then-Brooklyn Dodger fans which followed him the rest of his life -- died recently, a friend of mine posted his passing on Facebook. He posted that Musial had 1,815 hits in home games and 1,815 hits in road games, a model of consistency.

I noted in the same post that he struck out only 696 times in 10,972 at bats, a strikeout every 15.8 times at bat, a model of discipline.

Compare that with the Atlanta Braves' recent brother acquisitions, Justin and B.J. Upton. Justin strikes out every 3.8 at bats, while B.J. whiffs every 3.5 at bats.

Musial, as I read recently in a biography of the longtime St. Louis Cardinals slugger and as Stika pointed out, was married to the same woman for 72 years, was a devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather, was a man of faith, was a successful businessman, served his country in the Navy during World War II and constantly gave back to the game he loved.

Indeed, as the bishop mentioned in the homily at Musial's funeral and also had pointed out last year at Lil Musial's funeral, he was never thrown out of a baseball game.

"Some may think it was because of his kind disposition," Stika said. "Perhaps maybe he just did not want to go home and tell Lil that he was thrown out of a game."

Musial's life was the antithesis of everything that is honored in celebrity and mimicked by others today and is, in turn, why the country has taken such a wrong turn.

But Stan the Man, with a constant smile and ever ready to offer a tune on the harmonica, refused to let it get to him. Stika, in his homily, described a weekly tradition that described the player's sunniness.

"There was a tradition at Annunziata," he said, "that following Mass, Stan would push the wheelchair of Lil to his car. People, young and old, would line up to assist Stan in putting the wheelchair in the trunk of his car. I am sure that they did this with a spirit of generosity, but also it was well known that once the trunk was open, Stan would be generous in sharing with anyone around whatever souvenirs were in his trunk."

Musial, according to Stika, embodied the calling each one of us is given.

"God our most loving Father," he said, "invites us to a special relationship with him. He has blessed us with life that is filled with gifts and talents. He has blessed us with family and friends. He has blessed us with acts of kindness and a joy filled heart. And he waits and watches to see what we do with that life."

We should respond in kind, not for Stan, who at his retirement was proclaimed by baseball Commissioner Ford Frick as "baseball's perfect warrior ... baseball's perfect knight," but for what each of us has been given.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.