Cardinals seek Freedom medal for Stan Musial
The St. Louis Cardinals have begun a campaign for Stan Musial to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The medal is the highest civilian award in the U.S., along with the Congressional Gold Medal. It honors those who have made an “especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
First, a disclaimer. I love Stan Musial. I first heard his name in a barber shop in Joplin, Mo., in 1966. I was five years old. The barber was quizzing me about baseball, which I had just discovered. You think Stan the Man is big now in the state of Missouri; think how big he was in 1966, three years after his retirement.
On my desk is a baseball signed by Musial and Whitey Ford, sent to me by a friend.
I met Musial once, on the streets of St. Louis, right after Bud Wilkinson’s funeral in February 1994. Musial attended the service at Christ Church Cathedral, and I caught up to him a block away, after the memorial. Gracious, lovely man.
Musial the baseball player was as good as it gets. The equal of Mays and DiMaggio and Aaron. Baseball historian Bill James gave Musial the highest compliment when he said Stan the Man “always left the batter’s box on a dead run.”
Anyone who wants to put Musial ahead of Ted Williams or Barry Bonds as the left fielder on their all-time time will get no argument from me.
But Musial doesn’t deserve the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Musial played from 1941 through 1963. He luckily avoided the draft after World War II broke out and didn’t enlist until 1944. Musial never saw combat and missed only one season, 1945.
Compare that to DiMaggio or Williams or Hank Greenberg or Bob Feller, then explain how Musial deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Musial has been a great American, but were a bunch of other ballplayers, some of whom missed more than one year in their prime.
You want to give someone a medal, how about Greenberg? The Detroit Tigers slugger was drafted in 1940 and drew some flak when he listed Detroit, and not his native New York, as his hometown, which produced a lower draft number. But Greenberg reported to the military in May 1941 — he got 67 at-bats in 1941 — then was honorably discharged on Dec. 5, 1941, when the military released men 28 years or older.
Two days later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In January, Greenberg re-enlisted in the Army Air Force, hopefully putting an end to any talk about his patriotism. Greenberg eventually served in the Pacific theater, scouting locations for B-29 bomber bases.
Greenberg was 30 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. From 1937-40, Greenberg hit 172 home runs. That’s 43 a year. He was a three-time home run champ. A three-time RBI champ, each time knocking in at least 150 runs.
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