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.