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.
Baseball historian Bill James has called Musial the most respected player of the postwar era. By the press, by the fans, by the fellow players. More respected than Mays or Mantle or Ted Williams or Pete Rose or anyone.
“What he was was a ballplayer,” James wrote. “He didn't spit at fans, he didn't get into fights in nightclubs, he didn't marry anybody famous.
“He hustled. You look at his career totals of doubles and triples, and they'll remind you of something that was accepted while he was active, and has been largely forgotten since. Stan Musial was one player who always left the batter's box on a dead run.”
On baseball's all-time extra-base hit list, Musial ranks third. Hank Aaron had 1,477, Barry Bonds had 1,440 and Musial had 1,377.
Fifteen years ago, I chatted with Ada's Harry Brecheen, the Cardinal pitching star of the 1946 World Series. Harry the Cat's favorite teammate was Musial.
“I saw every day how great he was,” Brecheen said. “He came out and played every day. Nowadays, there's so many pulled muscles, you don't know who's going to play.”
Musial's last season came 50 years ago. 1963. Time has faded Musial's glory, except for those of a certain age and in a certain part of this country.
But you still can go into barbershops throughout Missouri, or maybe even its surrounding states, and drop the names of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, and you better be prepared.
You're going to hear about Stan the Man.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.