ST. LOUIS It was almost fitting that Stan Musial's passing happened on the weekend Cardinals fans from throughout the Midwest gathered for their annual Winter Warm-Up charity event.
Musial, a first ballot Hall of Famer who spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals, passed away Saturday evening at the age of 92.
The timing allowed Cardinals fans, players and front office personnel to all remember and celebrate the life of the franchise's great player together.
"He loved people and people loved him, " said fellow Hall of Famer and Musial's former roommate Red Schoendienst. "I never saw him get mad at anybody. There were certain times he could have but he was always nice. On and off the field he was as good as anybody you would ever want to meet.
"He knew how to play the game. He knew who was playing the outfield, what kind of arm he had, how many outs there was, what inning, if your winning by one run or winning and he knew when to take an extra base. He was just a real great ballplayer no matter how you looked at it, not only because of his average but because he could do everything else. "
Presentations on the main stage included memories of Musial from those in the Cardinals family and fans were seen wearing his No. 6 jersey or holding up signs. Memorabilia sellers reported huge increases in sales of Musial related items. Gathering just hours after Musial's passing became official around 5:45 p.m. Saturday night, current and past Cardinals paused to reflect on the life of the three-time MVP, known simply as 'The Man'.
They all kept coming back to the same thing.
"I think that his nickname 'The Man' kind of says it all, " said first baseman Allen Craig. "I think it stands for how he played on the field and the person he was off the field from what I heard about him. A lot of people really cared about what he was off the field.
"He was one of the first guys you learn about when you put the uniform on and especially when you step foot in the big league clubhouse, Stan 'The Man' Musial and everything he stood for and the player that he was. Obviously disappointed to hear about that loss. "
Musial had been in declining health the past few years and his death didn't come as a surprise to those who knew him closely. One of those was former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who announced his passing to a large crowd at his charity event Saturday night.
La Russa recalled memories of his father telling him about Musial while growing up in Tampa when the Cardinals held Spring Training in nearby St. Petersburg.
"When I was a kid in Tampa, my dad worked six days a week but on Sundays, when we could afford it, we would go see Spring Training games, the White Six in Tampa and the Cardinals and Yankees in St. Petersburg, " La Russa explained. "We would drive back and he would tell me about Stan. Later on when I was a manager and he knew Stan was in my office, he got upset, so I got Stan on the phone and he would talk to him. "
Asked what he would remember most about Musial, La Russa said, "Just the way he treated people. To be around him and see the respect and the courtesy, the caring, the sense of humor, that's the way he was with anybody. You say, 'Man this is Stan Musial doing this,' and you think I should be more like that. "
Musial is the Cardinals' franchise all-time leader in games played, at-bats, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, walks and extra-base hits. At the time of his retirement in 1963, he held or shared 17 major league records.
The 24-time All-Star hit .331 and had 475 home runs and 1,951 RBIs during his career and led the league in doubles eight different times. He finished his career with 3,630 hits - exactly 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road.
Musial made several appearances at Busch Stadium throughout the years for Opening Day and playoff appearances. His final appearance came before Game 4 of the NLCS last October when he rode around the warning track on a golf cart and delivered the game ball to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
"One of the best parts of any baseball season was Opening Day when you got to shake his hand, knowing that you were going to be a part of an organization and a team that was his organization, " said reliever Mitchell Boggs. "We are his team. He set an example for not only baseball players but for anybody to live by and not because he was a good baseball player. He's so much more than that and I think you look at his life, 22 years playing for the Cardinals is a small part of that in the grand scheme of things.
"The reason he connected with people and the reason he had such an impact on people was because has a real person. He didn't mind shaking your hand, he didn't mind signing your baseball and that goes a long way with normal people and at the end of the day, he was a great baseball player, one of the best to ever play, but he was a whole lot more than that. "
Musial is also celebrated for skipping the 1945 season to serve in the Navy in World War II. When he returned a year later, Musial won his second MVP award and led the Cardinals to the 1946 World Series title.
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. grew up watching Musial play in St. Louis. Years later when he bought the team in 1996, he developed a friendship with 'The Man' that he'll cherish forever. DeWitt shared a story from when he traveled with Musial several years ago to Washington D.C. to help christen a new ship, the USS Cardinal.
"They asked Stan if he would sign some autographs and the first thing Stan said was, 'How many naval personnel are on this ship?' " DeWitt recalled. "They said it was about 50 or 60 and Stan said, 'Well get me 50 or 60 baseballs then.' He sat there and signed and signed and signed until they all had a ball. That's incredible. "He wanted to make them happy. He wasn't doing anything for himself. He was doing it for other people. We're not the same Cardinals without Stan. "