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A hero shunted aside

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

In writing for publication, I seldom invade the sportswriter’s domain – not because of a lack of knowledge or interest on the subject, but because I believe in standing clear of an arena well covered by professionals hired to do so. Nevertheless, when the realm of athletics is invaded or encroached upon unfairly by political considerations, I take the issue to heart.

I have been critical of the Capitol Hill hearings into the illegal performance-enhancing drug use in organized baseball. These Congressional sorties, other than handing to our senators and representatives yet another opportunity to preen, pontificate and bully those called to testify, have accomplished little other than to foment rumor and innuendo. I have yet to air an opinion on the latest Congressional boondoggle, their unnecessary meddling in the manner of determining a national champion in NCAA football.

I have been a St. Louis Cardinals fan since 1944, the year of the city series and the only time the lowly Browns won a pennant. In the years that followed, I lived and died with the fortunes of the Redbirds. My heroes were Marty "Slats" Marion, George "Whitey" Kurowski, Harry "The Cat" Brecheen, Enos "Country" Slaughter, Bob Gibson, Ken Boyer, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, Ozzie Smith, Mark McGuire, et al. But the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan "The Man" Musial, overshadows all, even Albert Pujols.

Stan Musial epitomizes talent, sportsmanship and character—a Baseball Hall of Famer who could do everything, hit, run, throw and field, yet was and is possessed of uncommon humility and graciousness. Unlike the flawed personalities foisted upon us as heroes today—the Pete Roses, the Manny Ramirezs, the Terrell Owens, the John Dalys, and the rest of the clowns whose egos are overshadowed only by selfishness and bad behavior—he always had time for the fans and the younger players. He was ever the perfect gentleman.

With baseball’s All-Star Game scheduled for St Louis this year, it should have occurred to the Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig that this was a fitting time to honor the man who is known to fans all over the country as "Mr. St. Louis Baseball." Moreover, as Musial is the holder of nine All-Star Game records, including most games played and most home runs, the now 88-year-old legend had earned center-stage status for St. Louis and himself. As the commercial for Right Guard opined, “Anything else would be uncivilized.”

In fairness to the Commissioner of Baseball, Stan the Man received the royal treatment as he was carried to home plate in a golf cart to the applause of the collection of the 72 All-Stars selected for this year’s game, a standing ovation by a partisan crowd and a meeting with Cardinal Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter and Red Schoendienst. It should have been Musial’s day, a St. Louis tribute to the greatest living Cardinal and a true baseball legend.

Unfortunately, but undoubtedly motivated by the best intentions of Commissioner Selig, it was not to be so, as he had invited the President of the United States to throw the ceremonial first pitch. President Barack Obama was introduced to the crowd and emerged from the dugout, proceeding to the golf cart, where Musial handed him the baseball.

This opinion is not intended to demean the office of the president nor the current occupant of the White House, inasmuch as there is no question of the pecking order among American celebrities—there is but one Commander in Chief. Nevertheless, it escapes me why Stan Musial should have been upstaged in undoubtedly his last opportunity to make an appearance at the All-Star Game in front of the hometown crowd. That this was an unintended slight which also unfairly placed the president in an uncomfortable spot is understood, but it remains an exercise in poor judgment by Major League Baseball.

The grand entrance and introduction of this respected and beloved sports legend, only to employ him as a ball boy to hand off the baseball to President Obama, is, in my not-so-humble opinion, demeaning—not only to him, but also to St. Louis. I do not object to the President attending the game and being recognized appropriately; however, that ceremonial first pitch rightly belonged to Stan Musial. And, having seen him play countless times, I guarantee he would have thrown a pitch that not only reached his catcher, but also cut the strike zone.

There will be other presidents and other baseball extravaganzas and season openers, the proper venue for the president's toss, but there is but one Stan the Man, and this last hurrah for his loyal fans should have been his day.

 

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.


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