Stan Musial 1920-2013

On Saturday night, baseball lost one of its all-time greats. Stan “The Man” Musial, a Hall-of-Fame inductee who played 22 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, passed away at the age of 92.

I’ll leave the descriptions of Musial’s unique swing and the stories of contributions to the community to writers more eloquent and knowledgeable than I. FanGraphs is all about statistics, so let’s look at Musial’s career though his numbers.

Musial won three MVP awards, led the league in hitting seven times, and won three World Series titles. He played in 24 All-Star games, tied for the most ever, and was selected as an All-Star in 20 consecutive seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot and was named to MLB’s All-Century team in 1999. ESPN recently ranked him the sixth-best baseball player of all time in their Hall of 100 project. All of this while missing his entire age-24 season due to military service in 1945.

What is most notable about Musial is just how non-descript of a legend he was. He does not hold any of the high-profile career or single-season records. He didn’t hit home runs like Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron, he never hit .400 like Ted Williams, he didn’t have more hits than Ty Cobb, and he didn’t play the field or steal bases like Willie Mays. Looking at any one leaderboard fails to describe Musial’s greatness. His true value comes when looking across categories and realizing that he’s near the top of everything. He hit for average and power, he had peak and longevity. He was – without question – one of the best to ever play the game.

Here are his career totals:
Games – 3,026 (6th all time)
Hits – 3,630 (4th)
Doubles – 725 (3rd)
Triples – 177 (19th)
Home Runs – 475 (28th)
Total Bases – 6,134 (2nd)
Runs – 1,949 (9th)
Runs Batted In – 1,949 (6th)
Walks – 1,599 (13th)
Batting Average – .331 (30th)
On Base Percentage – .417 (22nd)
Slugging Percentage – .559 (19th)

If Musial had come along about 50 years later, he would have been a darling of the sabermetrics community. Perhaps Musial’s best skill was hitting doubles, he led the league in two-baggers eight times. Musial was also incredibly hard to strike out. He has the lowest K% (5.5%) of anyone with at least 375 home runs.
Here are Musial’s advanced statistics:

Wins Above Replacement – 139.4 (9th among hitters)
wRC+ – 158 (11th)
wOBA – .435 (12th)

Musial’s best season was in 1948, when he lead the league in all three triple slash stats (.376/.450/.702) as well as almost every counting stat: 230 hits, 46 doubles, 18 triples, 135 runs, and 131 RBI. He missed the triple crown by one home run, hitting 39 to Ralph Kiner’s 40. All of that adds up to a 201 wRC+ and 11.5 WAR. Musial’s 1948 season was rarefied air in the history of baseball. It ranks as the 24th highest single-season WAR for hitters, and the 30th highest single-season wRC+.

Off the top of your head, you could not reel off Musial’s career line, the most home runs he ever hit or his highest batting average. In a way, Musial embodied the humble, Midwestern ideals of city where he spent his entire career. There are no stories about a called-shot, no public love affair with Marilyn Monroe, and no dramatic catch in center field. Yet, his career and the numbers he tallied will live forever. Stan Musial’s name will be near, but not at, the top of just about every career or single-season leaderboard you’ll ever see.

“Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
- Ford C. Frick, chiseled on the base of the Stan Musial statue outside of Busch Stadium.




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Jesse has been writing for FanGraphs since 2010. He is the director of Consumer Insights at GroupM Next, the innovation unit of GroupM, the world’s largest global media investment management operation. Follow him on Twitter @jesseberger.


63 Responses to “Stan Musial 1920-2013”

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  1. Bob Loblaw says:

    First!

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  2. Johnny71 says:

    Fun fact about Stan Musial:

    He had exactly 1,815 hits at home.

    He had exactly 1,815 hits on the road.

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    • Gregory says:

      To be fair, his road stats were slightly skewed by a career batting line of .359/.448/.660 in 732 plate appearances at Ebbets Field. His prowess in Brooklyn spurred his nickname.

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      • Mawazi says:

        I’m not sure I understand why his performance at Ebbets Field “skews” his numbers. If a player doesn’t hit exactly the same way in all places and situations then it somehow skews their stats?

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      • Gregory says:

        See Johnny71′s comment. Then look up the definition of irony.

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      • Dan says:

        Went back and looked, and I still don’t get it. Irony is a two-way street. In order for us to recognize it, it has to be recognizable.

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  3. indyralph says:

    It’s not often that I have any strong feelings when a person passes when it’s their time. It’s not that I lack sympathy so much as I just think there is some triumph in a life that has run its due course. But as a lifelong Cardinal fan, I find myself decidedly emotional. And I’m not old enough to have seen Musial play. Stan the Man – rest in peace.

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    • bjs2025 says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’m only 26 but with how the Cardinals do such a great job of keeping their former stars around the Cardinal family, it feels like I’ve seen him play. It definitely threw me for a loop when I saw the news. RIP to The Man.

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    • stan says:

      I feel especially bad because he’s one of the few superstars who maintained a good public appearance throughout his life. This is one of the few superstars who you can be proud of and point out to your kids.
      My 7 year old even got emotional when he heard about it.

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      • Jim says:

        Depends on what type of values you want to teach your kids. Personally, I’d rather have my kids emulating Mickey Mantle — getting drunk every night, getting into fistfights at bars, sleeping with groupies under the bleachers, and still being the strongest and fastest player of all time. Better to burn out than to fade away, as they say.

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  4. Anon says:

    Well said Jesse.

    Also, here is how Musial’s career started:
    1942 – Won WS
    1943 – Lost WS, NL MVP
    1944 – Won WS
    1945 – Military Service
    1946 – Won WS, NL MVP

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  5. ttnorm says:

    If anything, he was a better man than a ball player. Requiescat in pace.

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  6. Bill says:

    I grew up in St. Louis, saw Musial play in a few games from 1960 to 1963, when his career waned and ended. I was too young to see his greatness, but when he retired, he was first or second in almost every stat in the NL, and in the top 5 in most major league stats. Of course, since then almost 50 years have passed, with teams playing 162 games a year instead of 154. More importantly, none of his accomplishments were the product of any chemical enhancement or self-interest – just honest and astute attention to the game and love for his team. I’d take him over any of today’s best, Pujols included, any day.

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  7. Phantom Stranger says:

    I never saw him play in person, but I have seen his slightly unorthodox stance and swing on film. You would think with his amazing success, that others would have tried to emulate him. I think he never got the fame of players like DiMaggio and Ted Williams across baseball, because his Cardinals were playing for the World Series right in the middle of a World War. By the 50s, New York City was dominating the baseball conversation.

    The Field of Dreams has another player…

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    • Jim says:

      His swing actually isn’t that far off from Ted Williams’:

      Musial’s swing: http://clients.chrisoleary.com/Hitting/ModelSwings/StanMusial/tabid/1262/Default.aspx

      Williams’ swing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPtLtFbk-1Q

      Both sat their stance with their bats largely vertical, well behind their body, sitting far back in the batter’s box, and got huge amounts of torso torque through rotation of their hips, hitting the ball at the end of their swing with almost all of their weight on their front foot. The big difference seems to me to be the exaggerated amount of body momentum Musial carried into his follow-through, which probably helped with his huge doubles total by helping him get out of the box quicker.

      The big thing that always strikes me about looking at great hitters from earlier times is how far back in the box they all stood.

      Rogers Hornsby: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uieLlwfBoyQ

      Babe Ruth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBmB–g0_U8

      Ty Cobb: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5-3iRezq1I

      These guys all tended to keep their feet very close together, at the absolute back of the batter’s box — which allows for maximum step-in and hip rotation, and also allows additional time to pick up the pitch since you’re physically farther away from the release point. I have absolutely no idea why this style of batting has fallen out of favor with swing mechanic specialists.

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  8. Bob says:

    Stan also had one of the longest marriages in baseball history, at 70+ years. Was wasn’t The Man great at? ;)

    Rest in peace, Mr. Musial.

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  9. Timb says:

    Musial is that one player I wish I would have had the opportunity to watch. He’s basically the equivalent of about 15 players from the last 15 years: that one guy who happened to hit the top of the WAR leaderboard without gaudy numbers by mainstream qualifications.
    He’s Jim Edmonds, Jeff Bagwell, John Olerud, Robin Ventura, Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus, Brian Giles, Scott Rolen, JD Drew, Chase Utley, and a ton of other nerds’ best years combined into a career.
    A sabremetricians’ wet dream.

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    • Gregory says:

      Musial won 7 batting titles. He won 3 MVP awards and finished runner-up 4 times. He led the league in OBP six times, RBIs twice, and although he never led the league in homers, he hit 30+ homers six times during an era when that meant something. He is second only to Aaron in total bases – which is probably the most significant “counting stat” for hitters – more total bases than Mays, Bonds, Ruth and Cobb.

      If Musial’s “mainstream” numbers aren’t gaudy, then I don’t know who else would qualify.

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      • Jim says:

        I’ll start this by saying that I firmly believe that Stan Musial is one of the ten best position players of all time. But as to how people could skip over him… I can see it.

        He never hit 50 home runs (or even 40 home runs). He only drove in 130 once (131 in 1948). He only scored 130 once (again in 1948). He never hit .400. He didn’t steal bases. His numbers show a remarkable consistency, but nothing really jumps out at you as having a WOW season, aside from his leading the league in everything in 1948 — but, then again, Ducky Medwick led his league in everything in 1937, and he doesn’t really have that “inner circle” vibe to him.

        From a traditional stats perspective, take a look at, say, Joe DiMaggio’s 1937 season. 151 games, 151 R, 167 RBI — a R and an RBI a game are numbers that really wow you. Rogers Hornsby’s 1922 season – .401 BA and 42 homers. Or, for that matter, Mantle’s ’56 season, when he hit .350 with 50 homers. Hack Wilson getting 191 RBI’s; George Sisler getting 257 hits; Ralph Kiner leading his league in HR for seven straight years — those are the types of numbers that jump out and grab you. Musial never really had any of those. Musial never won a triple crown. He never, as I said, hit 40 HR in a season. He never hit .400. He never drove in more than a run a game. He never really had those blow-you-away numbers that get people’s blood boiling.

        That said, of course he was one of the greatest players of all time. It’s not even a question. But compare the fact that he was always perfectly awesome for decades without actually blowing-you-away with his traditional stats in any given year with the fact that he played in the middle of nowhere in St. Louis, before the days of nationally televised games, and it’s easy to see how he got overlooked.

        For the record, as far as position players go, I’d put him behind only (roughly in order) Ruth, Cobb, Mays, Hornsby, Williams, Gehrig, and Wagner. Possibly Speaker.

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  10. Breadbaker says:

    And the weirdest thing is that he and Ken Griffey, Jr. shared the same birthplace, Donora, Pa., and the same birthday, November 21.

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  11. Slats says:

    I still believe Stan Musial is underrated.

    RIP to a legend.

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  12. Chickensoup says:

    My favorite tidbit of information about him that I’ve heard today was an odd one, but shows you the kind of person that the player was.

    Number of Ejections: Zero (For reference Earl Weaver was 91, and i think it was 3 times he was ejected from both games of a double header!)

    Great player, but more importantly great man

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  13. Yoko Ono says:

    My favorite Musial statistic:

    In 1943, he led the majors in BA, OBP, slugging, and OPS with a .357/.425/.562/.988 line as well as with 220 hits, 48 doubles, 20 triples, 347 total bases, all while striking out just 18 times in 617 AB.

    18 times in 617 AB!!!

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  14. Nickatl says:

    There is a great red barber story re Musial. Red was taking in batting practice and overheard a conversation between Musial and a teammate. He related when Musial came to bat at a decisive point in the game. He said here comes Musial w/ the game on the line. Talk about bringing confidence to the plate, a teammate told Stan everything was going great that day. The bacon was perfect, the eggs were perfect. He was hitting line drives. He said he felt like he could hit the ball every time up. He asked Stan, did you ever feel that way. “Every day, George, every day.” Was Stan’s reply. He then delivered the game- winning hit. Great story.

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  15. Bobcat80 says:

    On the topic of strikeouts, he never struck out 50 times in a season. Numerically, the most was 46 in 505 plate appearances (9.1 percent) in 1962 when he was 41. Percentagewise, he topped out at 11.3 percent in 1963, with 43 strikeouts in 379 plate appearances. The only other time he reached 40 (on the nose) was 1951, in 678 plate appearances (5.9 percent) in what was an otherwise typical Musial season.

    I just happen to be reading Bill James Gold Mine 2009. In his article about Triple Crowns, he rates Musial’s 1948 season as the best season not to win a Triple Crown and the fourth best Triple Crown season ever (read the article to see how a nonwinning season could be the fourth best ever).

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  16. Baltar says:

    I became a baseball fan in the mid-50′s, and the stars of that period will always be the giants of the game to me. Musial was “the Man” then and always will be to me.

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  17. Keith says:

    Last I heard, Stan was considered “the greatest living ballplayer.”

    Who is it now?

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  18. tyke says:

    20 AS games, not 24

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  19. Dave in GB says:

    In all do respect to Stan Musial and his career, but I would like to mention that another legend died on Saturday: Earl Weaver. I bring this up only because I would expect a site like Fangraphs to give him acknowledgment as being the first manager (that we know of) to introduce the advanced statistics of its time that we find common today, and also inspiring the likes of Bill James to expand what Weaver created. Weaver invented moneyball before Moneyball, and I think he deserves the recognition

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    • zipperz says:

      With all due respect to Weaver, who is unquestionably a HOF manager… I don’t think any manager passing compares to one of the 10 best players ever in the game.
      Just my unsolicited 2cents.

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      • dave in GB says:

        And I agree. I just figured fangraphs would give some kind of recognition to a manager who inspired a generation of statisticians and also heledp change the way baseball thinks.

        And anybody who appreciates Bill James and moneyball should appreciate the depths of Weaver’s managing. One of his best examples would be John Lowenstien and Gary Roenicke, who were both fringe players at best in thier mid 30′s, and Weaver was able to field the best LF platoon in the league during the early 80′s with them

        He studied rosters so he could stretch them in ways unfathomable to his peers. And he studied the nine innings of a game, so he could seize the strategic advantage whenever it was available. He had specific plays designed for specific players for different situations, and he hated small ball strategies that wasted outs.

        No, he doesn’t compare to Musial, but he’s just as important.

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  20. Austin says:

    Looking at those numbers, he was only 25 home runs short of 500 home runs. I wonder how much more impressive his career stats would look if he hadn’t taken a year off to serve in the navy. He might have very well gotten to 500 homeruns.

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    • Mawazi says:

      I despise how much importance is placed on totals ending with two or three zeros. So what, 475 home runs is nice and all, but 500! Holy cow. That guy must have actually been good!

      I’ll go away and calm down now.

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      • steex says:

        Haven’t you heard? Numbers can’t be compared based upon their relative merits, they have to be judged based on arbitrary benchmarks.

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      • zipperz says:

        The guy was 2nd in Total bases and 4th in hits. Of.All.Time.

        His HR totals are but one facet of his accomplishments. He won the MVP in merely his 2nd season when he led the Majors in BA, OBP, SLG%,OPS, Doubles, Triples, Games played, hits, and total bases… all while striking out 18 times in 700 PA.

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    • ron says:

      Probably not much better since he didn’t develop home run n umbers till later. Also he was one of the least affected by military service as he played through 43 and 44, years when many players were already in the service. Still a great player but the “his numbers were hurt by the war” is a bad argument with him.

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    • pft says:

      I actually wonder how he avoided missing more than a year. He was eligible in 1942-1944. Also, he had to enlist because he was going to be inducted and preferred the Navy where he spent most of his time playing ball in Hawaii.

      Great hitter though, but he like Ted Williams and other greats we build myths around never played in a fully integrated era. The 50′s were somewhat integrated, but nothing like today if you include Latinos. It was not until the 60′s that baseball was fully integrated. Stats before then are IMO inflated and not adequately adjusted to take into account the reduced talent pool.

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      • Today the talent pool is spread around to different sports. When Stan played baseball was king. A example of this is The Quarterback of the 49ers choosing football over baseball. American Baseball won’t be fully integrated until the Russians, Indians, and Chinese fully embrace the sport.

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  21. Franco says:

    5.5% career K rate is pretty nutty for a guy who hit 475HRs.

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    • Infield Fly says:

      Only Dimaggio (4.9%) and Berra(4.8%) have lower rates among those with more than 200 HRs. The vast majority are well over 10%… Ridiculous

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  22. mkd says:

    If you snuck Musial’s career triple-slash onto the 2012 NL leaderboard he would be 2nd in BA (.331 to Posey’s .336), first in OBP (.417) and 2nd in SLG (.559 to Braun’s .595). His CAREER line.

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  23. Billy says:

    This was incredibly sad news to hear over the weekend. Even with my beloved Calgary Flames opening their hockey season and 2 intense Championship games in the NFL on TV, I found myself looking for as many stories and articles about Stan the Man as I could. The man didn’t just transcend the game of baseball, he transcended all of sports.

    This is the type of person I want my children to be when they are older. The type of man/woman who is polite to all they meet, will be a devoted wife/husband and will be a hard worker who simply mastered their craft and went in day and day out and proved they belonged where they were. My children may never be Hall of Famers at what they do, but if they are the type of person Stan was off the field, they are Hall of Famers in the game of life just like Stan in my opinion.

    Baseball lost a legend and one of its greatest players, life lost a legend and one of its greatest people as well. RIP Stan Musial.

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  24. Spunky says:

    What a great, objective article about one of the finest ballplayers ever to play the game. I tip my hat to you, Jesse.

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  25. Ben Hall says:

    I wanted to compare Musial to some of the other all-time greats. This WAR graph comparison does a great job of showing how consistently great Hank Aaron was: 13 seasons of between 7.5 and 9.0 WAR. http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?players=1009405,1000001 Never quite reached the heights of the others, but Aaron just did it year after year after year.

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