Hall of Famer Stan Musial, one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, has passed away at the age of 92 on Saturday night.
Musial has not one, but two statues outside of the stadium in St. Louis. He held 55 Major League records at the time of his retirement, and he never struck out more than 50 times in any single season. He won seven National League batting titles, three MVP awards, and helped lead the Cardinals to three World Series titles back in the 1940s.
“It is a very sad day for me,” Willie Mays told ESPN‘s Willie Weinbaum of Outside The Lines at the Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in New York. “I knew Stan very well. He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could. Again, a true gentleman on and off the field — I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever.”
Musial spent more than two decades as a star in the middle of the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup, racking up the second-most hits in the history of Major League Baseball with 3,630. Ironically, at the age of 42 and after 22 years with the Cards, he got a hit on his final swing. It was a single past the first baseman of the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose — the very same man who would break Musial’s hits record 18 years later.
He had spent his entire 22-year career with St. Louis, and because the Majors actually held two All-Star games in a few seasons, he actually made 24 showcase teams.
He finished out his career with a .331 career batting average with 471 home runs, those 3,630 hits and 1,951 RBI.
Asked to describe the habits that kept him in baseball for so long, Musial once said, again according to ESPN: “Get eight hours of sleep regularly. Keep your weight down, run a mile a day. If you must smoke, try light cigars. They cut down on inhaling.”
One last thing, he said: “Make it a point to bat .300.”
As for how he did that, Musial offered a secret.
“I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider,” he said. “Then, I’d pick up the speed of the ball in the first 30 feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it has crossed the plate.”
Musial lived a kind-hearted, scandal-free and happy life. His simple rules for a successful Major League career permeated everything he did, and it is those reasons — not exactly merely the hits and homers and the raw numbers — that made Musial such an icon in America’s heartland.