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BASEBALL BY THE BOOKS
The Man Revealed
Book Review by David Shiner
James N. Giglio. Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2001, 345 pp., $29.95, cloth.
In July 1963, the members of the Academy of Sports Editors cast their ballots on behalf of the ballplayers they considered the best of all time. Stan Musial, then in his final season, was the only active player to finish in the top ten on the resultant list. He landed above a number of all-time greats, including the likes of Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig, and, perhaps most notably, Ted Williams.
Today it would be difficult to find many people outside St. Louis who rank Musial ahead of Williams. Musial's excellent but unspectacular play, career-long avoidance of controversy, and longtime residence in one of the lowest profile of major league cities seem to have resulted in widespread underestimation of his achievements on the playing field.
In order to rectify this, two longtime Missouri residents set out to recount the Musial story in the early 1990s. The first one to complete his manuscript was Jerry Lansche, whose Stan the Man Musial: Born to Be a Ballplayer hit the bookstores in 1994. Lansche's book, which was devoted almost entirely to Musial's major league career, was a compact and agreeable tome that took its author just over a year to research and write. Had it been published twenty or thirty years earlier, it would have set the standard for Musial biographies for quite some time.
Times change; so do standards. Today's baseball biographies are expected to demonstrate examination of primary source materials to an extent unheard of until the 1970s. James N. Giglio, a professional historian who was in the beginning stages of his own research on Musial when Stan the Man Musial: Born to Be a Ballplayer was published, considered Lansche's book "too brief, inadequately researched, and too geared to the baseball buff to qualify as a full-fledged biography." While Lansche accepted and expounded upon the popular image of Musial as "baseball's perfect knight," Giglio uncovered and examined previously unknown facts in assessing the extent to which Musial conformed to that image.
Giglio took nearly eight years to complete his biography, and a very fine one it is. It's chock-full of baseball, but its chief virtue is the impressive accumulation of evidence the author brings to bear on his assessment of Stan the man as well as Stan the ballplayer. In tracing the Musial story back to Stan's boyhood roots in Donora, Pennsylvania, Giglio takes issue with his subject's recollections of his younger days, particularly his somewhat idyllic depictions of his mother and father. Giglio also challenges various aspects of the squeaky-clean image presented of Musial during and after his playing days, for he has uncovered significant information that does not square well with that image. He is especially critical of Musial's lack of outspokenness on behalf of the plight of black players in the 1950s, although he readily acknowledges that Musial believed in their cause and that his low profile on that issue was entirely consistent with his character and approach to life in general.
In some respects, Giglio's book is reminiscent of Richard Ben Cramer's DiMaggio: A Hero's Life. Cramer took considerable heat for disclosing Joltin' Joe's less-than-savory qualities, and it's possible that the same fate will befall Giglio, albeit to a lesser extent. If so, it will be a shame. Giglio is careful to apportion praise and blame as they are merited. He is appropriately complimentary about the many features of Musial that are worthy of admiration, concluding that Musial rightly "remains . . . a true sports hero to his generation."
Giglio's book is impressive in every respect. The only factual error I noticed was his claim that Bill White became the Cardinals' first quality black position player when he arrived in 1960. White actually came to St. Louis a year earlier and played regularly and well in his initial season there; Curt Flood had already been a rookie regular for the Cards in 1958. But on the whole Giglio deserves an A for accuracy, and his insights into Musial and the times in which he flourished are praiseworthy as well.
During his playing career, Musial attracted fewer and less lucrative endorsements than most of his fellow superstars. When asked about that, his agent declared that Stan "never moved people the way Williams did." Half a century later the Splendid Splinter still moves people, as the regular updates on his health in sports sections of newspapers across the nation attests. As for Musial, he just keeps rolling along, as he did during his playing days, with quiet excellence. Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man tells the story of his life and times with an excellence all its own. EFQ
DAVID SHINER has been a member of the faculty at Shimer College in Waukegan, Illinois, for more than twenty-five years. His book Baseball's Greatest Players: The Saga Continues, a sequel to Tom Meany's Baseball's Greatest Players, is available from Superior Books at www.superiorbooks.com.
© 2002 David Shiner
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