Cardinal-red wreaths, balloons, sentimental cards and uniforms all adorned the grounds around the Stan Musial statue at Busch Stadium in St. Louis last week.
The great baseball player, who played a whopping 22 seasons for my hometown St. Louis Cardinals, passed away Jan. 19 at the age of 92, leaving a city in mourning for the much-adored “perfect knight” of baseball.
Numbers easily prove the greatness of Musial: an impressive .331 batting average, three-time World Series Champion, three-time National League MVP, seven-time National League batting champion, 93.2 percent vote for induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
He leaves behind a legacy of rarely-matched talent on the field and an even greater legacy of upstanding citizenry and profound moral character off the field.
Contemporary sports journalist Bob Costas remembered a dinner he shared with Musial and Mickey Mantle, another ephemeral baseball icon, while eulogizing Musial Saturday.
At the dinner, Costas recalled Mantle avoiding consuming alcohol, the vessel that would ultimately be the demise of his life, out of respect for the straight-and-narrow Musial.
Mantle conceded that although statistics, accolades and talent might have been on his side — debatable as that might be — he could never hold a candle to Musial.
“Stan was a better player than me because he’s a better man than me,” Costas remembered of the dinner conversation.
Musial’s legacy — blazingly illuminated by Mantle’s candid confession — is that of a great man. Sometimes, the simple words do the most justice.
I thought of another legacy — that of my grandmother’s — at her visitation on Wednesday afternoon. She passed away suddenly just a few hours before Musial.
Ten years ago, following the death of my grandfather, grandma got a job — something she had not done in many years. She gave out samples at a suburban St. Louis Costco store.
What may seem as a relatively inane and dispensable job turned out to be the means for grandma to touch so many people’s lives in the most indelible fashion.
Over the last nine years, she was not a sample lady. She became a friend, substitute mother and grandmother, confidant, therapist, cheerleader and role model.
The visitation revealed the extent of her importance. A huge contingent of coworkers bade farewell, and, to the utter bewilderment of our family, so did customers.
Her extension of love over the years created familial bonds with dozens of Costco regulars. So many well-wishers described her as a “great woman” — much akin to the hundreds of descriptions of Musial.
Page 2 of 2 - Musial’s family reached beyond the ties of blood.
Many St. Louisans remember him fondly as a father-, brother-, grandfather- or uncle-like figure in their lives. So many times over the last week, perfect strangers declared to me about grandma, “She was part of my family.”
So, what remains once Stan the Man hung up jersey and hung up the cleats is not so different from when my grandma took off her apron.
It doesn’t matter what you do in life so much as who you are and how you treat others.
Moral fiber counts more than any award.
Unflinching love is worth more than a thousands homes.
What kind of legacy will you leave? Personally, I strive to match the character of Stan Musial and the love and generosity of Judy Dundon.