The recent passing of Stan Musial, “Stan the Man,” the one described by George Vecsey of the New York Times as “the star who stood out by not standing out,” denotes the death of a much needed mentality in sports culture.
Musial was a role model for all the right reasons. He was considered by some as the best baseball player of his time, namely from 1945-55. What’s equally notable is what he stood for — the humble, 92-year scandal-free legacy.
Suppose sportsmanship didn’t exist. If the whole point of sport is to win, we might as well clump him in with Tiger Woods — who’s five major golf championship wins away from the all-time record, and a genuine prick. Both are winners, and neither cheated.
Both are role models in their time, Woods even more so than Musial. Two years after Woods was discovered to be an adulterer, he’s still playing good golf and making headlines for it.
Musial’s story is less complicated. He was a family man until his passing. To grasp a picture of his character, Vecsey wrote that in 1947 he declined to join teammates who objected to taking the field against Jackie Robinson, the first black player to see the major leagues.
The bottom line is that pro athletes are role models. To be a role model today, you’ve got to be a first class athlete but not always a first class person. Musial was both. In my books, what’s coolest about Musial’s story is that he never had to sacrifice dignity for the top prize.
Woods, Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are a few who missed the memo.
Musial’s humble character landed him less fame than others of his time. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were both more dazzling baseball stars. Sports need those characters too.
In some ways, sports need showmanship as much as they need sportsmanship, and all the types in between. Not everyone can be Stan “the Man” Musial, clearly.
Sports don’t need any more epic moral failures on the parts of pro athletes who are also role models.
While Lance Armstrong weeps in Oprah’s arms, let’s celebrate the athletes who are more like “the Man.”
Peter is the Sports Editor at the Journal.
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