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Stan Musial - The Longshot

cardinals left field donora

Stanislaus Musial was born in 1920 in Donora, Pennsylvania, three years after another Hall of Famer from

Stan Musial

an immigrant family in southwestern Pennsylvania, Honus Wagner, retired from active play. The parents of Musial's mother, Mary Lancos, had emigrated from Czechoslovakia. His father, Lukasz Musial, was a Polish immigrant who worked in the shipping department of the mill in Donora. The Musials had four daughters before Stanislaus was born, and later had another son, Ed, who would go on to play baseball in the minor leagues.

Stan Musial took to baseball at an early age, excited by a neighbor who played semipro ball. A natural left-handed hitter and thrower, Musial made an important refinement in his batting skills while playing for the local Donora Zinc Works company team. Their home field had a short left-field fence with a trolley track behind it, and Musial adapted his stroke so he could hit to the opposite field. His ability to hit to all fields made him very difficult to get out.

Musial's adeptness with the bat was overshadowed in his teen years by his powerful throwing arm. He threw very fast, but his pitching was unpolished. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Wagner's team, never showed any interest in Musial, but the St. Louis Cardinals did. The Cardinals' owner, Branch Rickey, had developed a far-flung scouting system. After Musial played basketball for Donora High School over the winter of 1937-38, he left school before graduating after signing a professional contract with St. Louis. The Cardinals assigned him to Williamson, West Virginia, in the Class D Mountain League, the lowest level of the minors. There Musial spent the 1938 and 1939 seasons and did not impress anyone. His strong arm was erratic, and Williamson's manager, Harrison Wickel, reported to the parent organization that he was the wildest pitcher he'd ever seen. The statistics bear out that judgment: in 1939, Musial walked eighty-nine batters (while striking out eighty-five) in ninety-one innings.

Wickel recommended that Musial be released, but luckily for Musial a Williamson outfielder was injured, and he was pressed into service as an everyday hitter. He batted .352, and that saved his career. The next season, the Cardinals moved Musial to Daytona Beach in another Class D league, the Florida State League. For Daytona Beach, he pitched and played outfielder between his pitching starts. During one game, playing center field, Musial tried to make a diving catch and injured his left shoulder. That pretty much ended his pitching career, but his .311 batting average prompted the Cardinals to give him a second chance.

Stan Musial - Meteoric Rise [next]

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