By Paul White, USA TODAY Sports
Stan Musial was known simply as "The Man."
That's where the Hall of Famer stood in the annals of the St. Louis Cardinals, the National League's most successful franchise.
Musial, 92, died Saturday, the second baseball icon to pass away in less than 24 hours. Hall of Fame managerEarl Weaver diedearly Saturday morning.
Musial was a three-time MVP, 20-time All-Star and seven-time batting champion in his 22 seasons with St. Louis, the only team he played for. He finished his career with a .331 batting average and 475 home runs, earning him first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame in 1969.
GALLERY:Musial through the years
Musial died at his suburban St. Louis home. A cause of death was not immediately announced. Musial had battled Alzheimer's disease in recent years and was under hospice care.
"Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history," said William DeWitt Jr., chairman of the team, "and one of the best players in the history of baseball."
Musial retired in 1963 as the all-time National League leader in games, runs, hits, doubles and RBI. He remained the NL hits leader until passed by all-time major league leader Pete Rose.
He became a team vice president for the next 25 years. He also was general manager in 1967, when the Cardinals won the World Series with close friend and former teammate Red Schoendienst managing.
In addition to his excellence, Musial was clearly St. Louis' most popular player. He was so revered that Albert Pujols, while playing for the Cardinals, resisted the nickname "El Hombre," Spanish for "The Man," calling it disrespectful to Musial.
Musial's nickname actually began in Brooklyn, where fans had become accustomed to Musial's performances against the Dodgers.
Brooklyn pitcher Preacher Roe once said the best way to handle Musial was, "Throw him four wide ones and pick him off first."
"How good was Stan Musial?" legendary broadcaster Dodgers Vin Scully once said. "He was good enough to take your breath away."
Condolences and tips of the cap began pouring in Saturday. Pujols tweeted, "My prayers are with the Musial family tonight. I will cherish my friendship with Stan for as long as I live. Rest in Peace." And former pitcher Curt Schilling tweeted, "Thank you Mr Musial, your life was a clinic in respect, integrity and honor. The game is better for having you. RIP"
Musial was born and raised in Donora, Pa., just south of Pittsburgh, and started his pro career by signing a contract as a 16-year-old with the Cardinals' Class D farm team in nearby Monessen. His father, who worked in the local steel mills, wanted Stan to accept a basketball scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. Less than four years later, he was in the major leagues.
He pitched then, as well as playing the outfield, but his pitching career ended when he hurt his shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield while still in the minors. That left him with a less-than-average throwing arm, the only dent in his physical resume, but he still handled all three outfield positions and first base, learning a quick release to make up for the strength his arm lacked.
The left-handed Musial's batting stance was unique, very closed with his right foot much closer to the plate than his left. Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons said it was "like a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops are coming."
But Musial insisted the stance allowed him to reach outside pitches.
Who could argue with the results.
He never struck out more than 46 times in a season and that was as a 41-year-old in 1962, his next-to-last season. In 1948, his best season, Musial had more homers (39) than strikeouts (34). He also led the NL that season in batting, runs, doubles, triples, total bases, RBI, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
"Once Musial timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy,'' Hall of Fame left-hander Warren Spahn said.
Carl Erskine, a 20-game winner with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953, liked to joke about how difficult it was to get Musial out.
"I've had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third,'' Erskine said.
Musial demanded excellence from himself. "Unless you give it all you've got, there isn't any sense in playing," he said.
He was so disappointed when he hit a career-low .255 in 1959 that he asked the Cardinals to trim his salary from $100,000 to $80,000. Musial made about $1.3 million in his entire career, less than about half the current Cardinals will make this season.
The Cardinals retired Musial's No. 6 on Sept. 29, 1963, the day of his last game, and erected a statue in his honor outside the second Busch Stadium in 1968.
The inscription on the statue's pedestal quotes Commissioner Ford Frick's words when Musial retired: "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight.''
The statue, which depicts Musial in his hitting stance, was moved next to the current Busch Stadium before it opened in 2006.
Musial was an accomplished harmonica player - he used to play at the yearly Hall of Fame induction ceremonies - and became a successful businessman even before his playing days were over. In 1949 he and business partner Julius "Biggie'' Garagnani opened a restaurant in downtown St. Louis called "Stan Musial and Biggie's.''
Musial received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, when President Obama said, "His brilliance came in blinding bursts. Stan Musial made that brilliance burn for two decades."
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz