The Sports Bookie -- RIP Stan Musial

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I never got to see Stan Musial play during his major-league career. I was only 6 when "The Man" retired after the 1963 season. But I did have the chance to see him at the annual Governor's Baseball dinner in Florida at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg in 1981.

Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals had a presence in the Tampa Bay area for many years, as the team conducted spring training in St. Petersburg. And, Musial owned a condo in the Tierra Verde area at the southern tip of Pinellas County.

When he appeared at the Governor's Dinner, Musial was the star, surrounded by reporters and jumping into his famous corkscrew batting stance for anyone who wanted to see. He attracted fans and media like a magnet.

If there was a better loved player than Musial, I don't know of any. Yogi Berra might come the closest, but even Berra never matched Musial's sunny dispositon. There have been plenty of wonderful men who have been great ambassdors for baseball, but Musial was one of the best.

Brooklyn Dodger fans, who hated to see Musial hit at Ebbets Field, were forever grateful to Stan for his support when Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color line in 1947. Bob Gibson has spoken of Musial's influence in creating a harmonious atmosphere between blacks and whites on the Cardinals.

Musial was a three-time NL MVP (1943, '46 & '48). The 1948 season was his best. He hit 39 homers and batted .376 to win one of his seven NL batting titles. He led the NL in runs scored (135), hits (230), total bases (429), doubles (46), and triples (18).

In 1954, he set an MLB record with five homers in a doubleheader against the New York Giants. He hit .300 or better in 16 consecutive seasons and played almost to his 43rd birthday.

It's bad enough that there won't be any new inductees into this year's Hall of Fame (as voted by the BBWAA). Now, Musial (and Earl Weaver, who died earlier Saturday), will never be on the podium again duing induction ceremonies.

It's a big loss for baseball and baseball fans. Rest in peace, Stan the Man.