I first heard his name in a Joplin, Mo., barbershop. Had to be 1966, one of only two years I ever lived outside Oklahoma. I was five.
I was just discovering baseball. By 1971, I would know everything there was to know about baseball. Lineups by the number, statistics by the score.
But in those Joplin days, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were about as far as I could take you.
“Have you heard of Stan Musial?” the barber asked me.
There was a time when no barbershop in Missouri or the rest of the Heartland would let you leave without a decent haircut and an appreciation for Stan the Man.
Musial died Saturday at the age of 92, as good a ballplayer as ever graced a diamond, even if he wasn't the star of song or played in the City That Never Sleeps.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Willie, Mickey and the Duke. New York gave us great teams and great legends.
But New York never gave us a better ballplayer than Stan Musial. And no ballplayer ever meant more to a city than Stan the Man meant to St. Louis. And really, to an entire region.
St. Louis was baseball's western outpost until 1957. The Cardinals weren't just Missouri's team. They were Arkansas' and Louisiana's and Texas' and Kansas' and Nebraska's and Iowa's and Tennessee's and Kentucky's and even Oklahoma's, despite the connection to the homegrown Mantle.
And Musial was the hero of Trans-Mississippi. A 20-time All-Star. Seven-time batting champ. Three-time National League MVP. Four-time MVP runner-up.
Put him in Yankee pinstripes, and the 3 Musketeer candy bar would have been called a Musial. Instead, Musial was a 22-year Redbird, and a Redbird even after retirement.
A charming, humble, harmonica-playing, dedicated St. Louis icon. Has any athlete ever so singularly captured the heart of an American city? The New Yorks and Chicagos, Bostons and Phillys have multiple loves. Even San Antonio has both David Robinson and Tim Duncan; even Salt Lake City has both Karl Malone and John Stockton.
St. Louis has Stan Musial, who never disappointed Cardinal Country like did Mark McGwire and who never left like did Albert Pujols.