Most of us know that Stan Musial was one of the all-time greats when it comes to baseball, but the three-time MVP and Hall of Famer who died on Saturday was also a big fan of horse racing. Victor Zast ran with the Musial crowd in the 1980s and provides a fascinating glimpse of the St. Louis Cardinals legend known simply as The Man. – Ray Paulick
Musial used to party with Morrisey at Marylou's, while the rest of us would go to the Maddens. Otherwise, we'd spend Kentucky Derby weekend together.
This was the way it was in the 1980s for eight years, at least, until the old gang grew tired and faded away. Those who remain are now in Florida – God's waiting room. They are gathering for dinner at five and going to bed by nine, which used to be when we'd get rolling.
We called “The Man” Stan. And for all that he was at the plate he wasn't much at the races.
To “Stan the Man,” picking horses was like hitting a curve ball low and inside. There weren't many pitches that the Hall of Fame ballplayer couldn't clobber. But that might have been one of them.
He batted .331 during his 22-year major league career.
Like us, Stan loved the races. But unlike us, he went to the track in a police-escorted limousine, the lights flashing – a procession befitting a saint.
Still, with the opening of Oaklawn Park and later the spring meet at Keeneland and, finally, our visit to Louisville on the first Saturday in May (and the day before), he played the horses with the best of ‘em – a fan in the game with a passion.
It's too bad that his luck wasn't as good as his batting eye.
Finally, one day, Stan went up to the windows with his wife's intuition. Lil would bet on the six horse because six was the number on the back of her Hall of Fame husband's uniform.
Well, when Sea Hero, wearing number six on his saddle cloth won, you would have thought that Stan had won the batting title – which he did seven times. We celebrated at the Louisville Redbirds stadium. Musial could make any party fun, even one in an empty ballpark.
In most other years, we ended the Derby weekend at a country club.
Another year, we attended a house party with fancy hors d'oeuvres and even fancier guests.
It was all very exciting. David Vance, the GM of old Latonia, was there. We rubbed shoulders with Andy Warhol, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters and Gov. John Y. Brown and Phyllis George.
Amidst the cafe society, Stan whipped out his harmonica – the two-bit harp that he took on the team bus when the Cardinals traveled to an away game – and played “Sweet Georgia Brown.” He could draw a crowd, honestly.
At the track, on the other hand, it was at a shrimp-plattered, ice-bucketed table on the sixth floor of Millionaire's Row where Stan's posse of Stan Phillips, Barry Buse, Birch Riber, Chuck Knox, Marty Allen, Al Hirt and Johnny Bench circled the wagons.
We drank as if we were kids in the infield, and when it came time to eat, one or two of the guys would run down to buy hot dogs. Stan would rattle off a series of “whaddya' say, whaddya' says” and the party was on.
He would sign autographs until his hands trembled. He would pose for anyone with a camera, hugging the girls because that's what they wanted, stepping into that famous batting crouch to stamp the shot with the stance that millions of baseball fans recognized.
You'd have marveled at the stream of well-wishers who happened by – people such as President Gerald Ford and Muhammad Ali, Howard Cosell and Don King. Such was the mystique of the famous first baseman.
There are a lot of Stan the Man stories to tell. But the best is about the night that he slept through the fire alarm. That evening, Stan took the spirit of the Jim Beam Stakes literally and hit the sack at the Drawbridge Motel like rocks hit the bottom of a glass.
The next morning at breakfast, everyone was bleary-eyed but Stan. He was fresh as a new bed linen. An ear-splitting siren had roused everyone but him from their slumber and into the hotel lobby in pajamas. “What siren?” he asked, innocently, having slept through the interruption.
Had there really been a fire instead of a false alarm, Musial could have died that night. But he waited another 30 years before getting around to it.
The details of his life appeared in all the newspapers yesterday. You must have read about his three MVPs, the way he terrorized Ebbets Field, how he hit 475 homers and was a member of the Cardinals' famed “Gashouse Gang.”
What you didn't read is that Stan was a horseracing man.
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