This Saturday, baseball received some of the most disheartening news it had in quite some time: Stan Musial and Earl Weaver passed away. The two could not possibly have been more different from one another, and yet they provided a unique lens into the game of baseball that no other men could have. Stan Musial has played the most games in MLB history without an ejection at 3026, and Earl Weaver has the most ejections of any AL manager to this date with 91.
Stan Musial was nothing if not a man of consistency.
He had only one wife, to whom he was married for 71 years.
He was a devout Catholic man until the day that he died.
He finished his career with 3,630 hits, of which exactly 1,815 were at home, and exactly 1,815 were on the road.
He led the league in batting average seven times, won three MVP awards and rarely struck out: during one of his MVP seasons, he struck out only 34 times in 611 at bats.
He spent every one of his 22 years with the Cardinals, and made 24 All-Star games, as the MLB held two All-Star games each summer for a few summers during Musial’s playing career.
Further, in 1945 Musial did not play so that he could serve his time in the Navy. When he came back the next year, Musial won the MVP race and the World Series. To even fathom a current major league player serving in the military is outlandish to consider. Today’s prized athletes are so discouraged from joining the service by the media (who have signed precious contracts for players to endorse their precious product), by the leagues they are a part of (who often intentionally avoid drafting a player if they’ve considered serving), and by coaches and GMs, who will not promise players their spot on the team when they’ve returned from the service.
This allows for players to sit back, content in their fame and fortune while other less famous people serve in the front lines. This does nothing but highlight Musial’s guts, honor and skill further. To quote Albert Pujols, somewhat of Musial’s mentee, “What he did for the Cardinal organization is unbelievable,” Pujols said in an interview with USA Today. “There will never be anyone else wearing that Cardinal uniform who will be the face of the franchise. You can talk about his numbers … but the man himself is what made him so great. What he did for his community, for his country. That’s what made him so special.” You’d be hard pressed to find such a man in baseball today.
Perhaps the best way to describe Earl Weaver is to showcase him in his traditional post-game state: when reporters would enter Weaver’s office for a post-game interview, they would often find him clothesless, chicken wings in hand, as if that was the only way to be after a game.
Weaver never was a man to play by anyone else’s rules. When he felt he was right, he would make sure everyone knew he was right. If you didn’t fit his description as to what he wanted in the lineup that day, you would not start. He was not warm and fuzzy, and yet he was one of the most successful managers to exist, finishing fifth all time in win percentage at .583. He did not play small ball (his formula for winning games was evident in the name of his book “Pitching, Defense, and Three-Run Homers”), but he got results. He often battled with his players, but he proved himself to be one of the shrewdest lineup crafters in the history of baseball.
Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, was one as a hothead. He developed a technique in which he would tilt his hat slightly to the side when arguing with an ump, so as to get a few inches closer to his face without being ejected for touching the umpire. Weaver was ejected 91 times in his career, including once in each game of a doubleheader. And yet, everyone who played for him knew he loved the game more than life itself. After Weaver’s passing, long-time Oriole Cal Ripken said of Weaver to MLB.com: “his passion for the game and the fire with which he managed will always be remembered by fans everywhere and certainly by all of us who had the great opportunity to play for him. Earl will be missed, but he cannot and will not be forgotten.”
The passing of Musial and Weaver is especially relevant in light of the recent refusal of the Hall of Fame to admit any new members this year, the first time no one has been elected since 1996. The major news is not that first-year candidates Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, among others, failed to make it in on their first try (they more than likely will make it at some point), or that Jack Morris is now entering his final year of eligibility. It is the stories of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa put up some of the greatest numbers of all time, much as Musial did on the field and as Weaver did in the dugout. While there is nothing in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (the committee that determines Hall of Fame entry) rulebook that says steroid use in specific should keep a player out of the Hall of Fame, it does say on its website that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to team(s)…”
It is clearly not Bonds, Clemens and Sosa’s records, playing abilities, and team contributions that keep them out of the Hall. It is their appalling lack of respect for the game of baseball, their shortcomings in integrity, sportsmanship and character that their PED use is so indicative of that kept them short. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said of the lack of Hall of Famers this year in an email to The Associated Press. “This generation got rich. Seems there was a price to pay.”
Now take a step back, and compare the roads Musial and Weaver went down to those Bonds, Clemens and Sosa went. Musial and Weaver were not only some of the most remarkable baseball minds to ever grace the game, but they were also some of the finest men to ever be a part of it. They kept their noses clean of any sort of trouble and went about their daily business the only way they knew how: by working as hard as they could day in and day out until they knew they had done the best job they could. Musial and Weaver were certainly different in temperament, baseball ideology and ideas on style of play, but what links them together was their genuine love, respect and admiration for the game of baseball. And for that, they have been enshrined in Cooperstown as part of a group that earned baseball’s highest honor: induction into the Hall of Fame.
Musial and Weaver’s lives in contrast with Bonds, Clemens and Sosa’s denial from the HOF seemingly marks the beginning of a sad transition in baseball: gone are the heroes of baseball who were clean and pure, and in come the artificial heroes, who have climbed to the top via trickery and deceit. We see fewer and fewer headlines like “Modest Stan Musial Still Embarrassed by Hero Worship” (The Pittsburgh Press) and more and more headlines like “Roger Clemens Could Face Between 15-21 Months In Jail If Convicted Of Perjury” (Sports Illustrated).
This is not to say all current MLB players are scumbags (see Derek Jeter, David Wright); most are not. This is not to say all old baseball players were gods; they were not (see Pete Rose, the Black Sox). The trend, however, is an unsettling one at best, and if baseball does not crack down as hard as they possibly can on the issue, the days of poster-boy, Musial-esque heroes could be gone forever.
It matters not the details of their passing, opinions on the Cardinals or the Orioles. This much is for sure: it is a sad, sad week for major league baseball. We have lost some of the greatest men to ever grace the fields with their presence, and they will be sorely missed. My cap as a baseball player, as a fan and as a human being goes off to the both of them. May they rest in peace.