MUSIAL NO MAN OF HONOR, MR. PRESIDENT

By Murray Chass

March 24, 2011

With the economy and international turmoil, President Obama has enough headaches; he doesn’t need any more. But his staff has created one for him with its failure to investigate fully the career and life of Stan Musial before recommending him for a Presidential Medal of Freedom that Obama bestowed on him last month.Stan Musial Obama3 225

It turns out that the 90-year-old Musial is not the Saint Stan he is considered in St. Louis. For sure, Musial remains the great player he was in his Hall of Fame career and deserves all of the accolades he has received for his achievements in that career.

As a person, however, he left much to be desired. Marvin Miller raised the issue in a recent conversation and provided the evidence to make his case. It is a convincing one.

Curt Flood, a Cardinals’ teammate of Musial, was Exhibit A.

Musial, with a partner, had a restaurant (a “posh restaurant,” Miller said) in St. Louis called Stan Musial & Biggie’s. Flood and some of his teammates, also African-American and all former teammates of Musial, Miller said, made plans to attend a celebration at the restaurant. This was some time after Musial retired following the 1963 season.

“Flood organized this group of African-American players,” Miller related, “He got together a group that had known Musial as a teammate and they thought it was appropriate that they should go. As he said to me, ‘We didn’t always dress up but that night we did. We wore freshly pressed pants, shirts, ties, jackets and off we went to help celebrate with our former teammate.

“When we got to the restaurant, the maitre d’ refused to seat us,” Flood told Miller.

“He said they wanted to know why that was,” Miller continued, “and the maître d’ finally pointed around the restaurant and said, ‘Do you see any black faces here?’ Flood said he asked ‘Is this your idea?’ No, he said. The owner had given him instructions. They left.”

The incident appears in some books about Flood, though in one book in a different form. In that version, Flood was with a date when they were not seated. But that author’s version didn’t come directly from Flood.

Miller’s version did. He spent a lot of time talking to Flood when the outfielder was suing Major League Baseball in 1970, challenging the reserve clause that restricted players to their teams until and unless they were traded, sold or released.

Marvin Miller Curt FloodThe word ironic is overused, but it would seem to me we could consider it ironic that the nation’s first black president awards the nation’s highest civilian honor to someone who discriminated against blacks.

Some people believe that even earlier, in 1947, Musial displayed that view, opposing Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major leagues.

“When it became known that the Dodgers were going to bring up Robinson,” said a lawyer with no first-hand knowledge of the incident, “Musial tried to organize a boycott against playing them if he was on the team. Musial was outraged.”

Another lawyer, also with no direct knowledge of the situation, has studied the Cardinals in that time and has written about them.

“I’m a huge Musial fan,” said Jason Mark Anderman. “Either he was willfully blind as to what was going on in his own clubhouse or the sports writers were wrong. He might actually have been willfully blind. It also seems possible that he deliberately forgets things that were going on at the time.”

Anderman also noted that Willie Mays said that when he first made the All-Star game Musial was the first white player to be friendly to him. Anderman also said that that Musial had good relations with Bill White and Bob Gibson, black Cardinals’ teammates, who did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

“It doesn’t seem like the strike would ever have been something he’d have been a part of,” Anderman said.

Miller said he was not aware of any anti-Robinson feelings in Musial. “I know there were ardent racists on the Cardinals,” he said, “but I never heard Musial’s name in that connection.”

Miller, however, became aware of other issues involving Musial that render him less than “The Man.”

“The first real attempt to get the players freedom, I suppose, was the attempt by Robert Murphy, a former N.L.R.B. examiner, who tried to organize the players on his own. Musial had a cold shoulder for that.

“At the same time, in 1946, two Mexican brothers tried to create competition for the major leagues, deciding to establish a major league in Mexico. They attempted to recruit some of the top stars in the U.S. They succeeded in signing some of them, including Sal Maglie and Mickey Owens. The Mexican entrepreneurs offered two, three, four times what they were making.

“Musial at the time was already an outstanding major league player. Stan Musial 225The Mexican brothers tried to entice him, but he apparently discussed it with Gussie Busch (Cardinals’ owner) and decided his interests were elsewhere. He did nothing immediately.”

“The owners,” Miller continued, “panicked at the dual threat of a union and Mexico and offered a pension plan for the first time. Pensions were unheard of in professional sports at the time.

“Musial was on the committee considering the pension plan,” Miller said, “and as far as I could determine from the records, he was on the committee because the owners appointed him and not the players.”

The committee created a plan for players with five years or more in the majors. However, it included a limiting provision. To be eligible for a pension, a five-year player had to be on a roster the last day of the 1946 season and the first day of the 1947 season.

“It disqualified everyone who went to Mexico,” Miller said, “It was a very severe disqualification.”

A player could have 10, 15, 20 years of major league service but if he played in Mexico in 1946 or was released before the final day of the season, there would be no pension.

“It’s clear from looking at the records,” Miller said, “that that provision was aimed clearly at players who played in Mexico. Musial was part and parcel of that committee. I’ve looked and looked and never found anything about anyone raising a protest about that.”

The ramifications of the provision became apparent to Miller when he became executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.

“When I came in,” the 93-year-old Miller said, “I began getting requests from players to become part of the pension plan who were not part of the plan because of that provision. There wasn’t anything I could do. But we knocked out that provision.”

Miller acknowledged that Musial continues to be worshipped in St. Louis, where a bronze statue of him stands outside Busch Stadium on Musial Plaza with these words: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”

There also stands a recipient of a presidential medal of freedom from a president who should have known better, if only his staff had done its job.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.