Here Stands Baseball’s Perfect Knight

Deacon Scott Maentz Media, News

The Diocese of Knoxville is proud of our pastor Bishop Stika who delivered the homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for Baseball Hall of Famer, Stan Musial. Stan’s son-in-law, Martin Schwarze, shared that Joe Torre had mentioned that Stan Musial was not only a Hall of Fame Baseball Player, but that he was also a member of the Hall of Fame when it came to life. Bishop Stika’s homily was a testament to both.

Mass of Christian Burial Homily
Stanley Frank Musial
January 26, 2013

It was a bright and sunny day on January 27, 1999. St. Louis was excited to have a very special man in its midst and so were Stan and Lil. As they progressed through a number of security checkpoints along Lindell, they finally came to the residence of the Archbishop. For it was here that one retired Cardinal was going to greet another former Cardinal. They first met in Krakow, Poland many years before when Blessed John Paul was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. As Stan exited his car with Lil, cheers and applause erupted from the people who were waiting to get a look at the Pope. The cheers rang out not because the Pope was looking out the window, but rather because it was their friend and hero they wanted to welcome as he traveled to greet the Pope. It was obvious that a special connection existed between Stan the Man and the people of St. Louis and the rest of the country.

During his visit to St. Louis, the Holy Father was given a hockey stick that was autographed by team members of the St. Louis Blues. At some point I questioned the Holy Father as to whether he was to be a hockey player and his simple reply came in his Polish accented English: “Baseball”. No doubt he too was influenced by Stan.

There have been numerous movies made about baseball players. William Benedix played Babe Ruth, Ronald Reagan played Grover Cleveland Alexander, Dan Dailey played Dizzy Dean and Gary Cooper played Lou Gehrig. These movies were a blend of fact and fiction, many times more fiction. And unless you are a classic movie buff as I confess to be, the movies have faded with history. But not Stan the Man, who retired from baseball 50 years ago, his story lives on!

I don’t know if their will ever be a movie made about Stanley Frank Musial but to me that is not so bad.  I do hope however that perhaps a new local bridge can carry his name. But what I do know that since the early 1940’s, the good people of St. Louis have witnessed a remarkable story about an individual who was blessed by great skill but also with a  good dose of humility. The skill was God given, the humility was his gift. Perhaps that gift of humility was because of his dear wife Lil, who was called home to God last year. At her funeral I commented that Stan was never thrown out of a baseball game. Some may think it was because of his kind disposition. Perhaps maybe he just did not want to go home and tell Lil that he was thrown out a game!

Many see the life of Stan the Man in terms of baseball statistics. He was a baseball superstar. This year marks 50 years since he retired from playing the game. 50 years is a long time and yet I would venture to bet there aren’t too many people in the community who do not know about Stan the Man. This is true of young and old. One does not even have to add the title “the Man”. Stan is sufficient to conjure up a sense of awe and respect.

Stan the Man, the baseball player, had an incredible gift to play America’s sport.

Hits:  3630, 1815 at home, 1815 on the road

Life time batting average:  .331

RBI: 1951

Years played: 22

Home runs: 475

Three MVP awards

7 batting titles . . .  Missed Triple Crown by one homerun in 1948

3 World Series titles

24 All Star games

Successful business man (Co-owner of Musial and Biggies)

Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by our nation.

But Stan was much more than that:

He was a loving husband of Lil for 72 years.

Father of 4 children:  Dick, Janet, Jeanie and Gerry

Grandfather of eleven

Great Grandfather of twelve

Brother and Son

Friend to thousands and thousands. We all claimed him as our own.

And of course, the dear friend of Red Schoendist, number 2

A man of faith.

I was blessed to serve as pastor of the Church of the Annunziata, Stan and Lil’s parish for the four years before I was named a bishop. Sunday after Sunday I would see Stan and Lil, sitting in the front pew near the shrine of St. Joseph, faithful members of the parish for over 40 years.

There was a tradition at Annunziata, that following Mass, Stan would push the wheelchair of Lil to his car. People, young and old would line up to assist Stan in putting the wheelchair in the trunk of his car. I am sure that they did this with a spirit of generosity, but also it was well known that once the trunk was open, Stan would be generous in sharing with anyone around whatever souvenirs were in his trunk.

As we celebrate this Mass of Christian Burial, the readings of this Mass remind us of God’s goodness and his invitation to share that goodness with others. These readings, the same that were proclaimed at Lil’s funeral are a challenge to us all to look soberly at our life, to ascertain how well we live our faith.

Can’t you just picture Stan and these teachings of Jesus?

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are the lowly

Blessed are they who hunger for holiness

Blessed are they who show mercy (especially to pitchers)

Blessed are the peacemakers….

And perhaps we could add:

Blessed are those who are kind and offer a friendly smile

Blessed are those who take time out of busy lives to share with others and perhaps sign autographs for hours

Blessed are those who use their talents to the fullest and are always grateful for them

Blessed are those who play music (harmonica) and bring joy to others

Blessed are those who serve their community, love their family and treasure their friendships

Be glad and rejoice, for their reward in heaven is great.

With a twinkle in his eye, with the sounds of his harmonica and with his kind smile, Stan truly lived out his faith. He was grateful for what he was blessed with and had a strong desire to share his gifts with others.

God our most loving Father invites us to a special relationship with him. He has blessed us with life that is filled with gifts and talents. He has blessed us with family and friends. He has blessed us with acts of kindness and a joy filled heart. And he waits and watches to see what we do with that life. Stan, throughout his life, lived it to the fullest, grateful to God.

I just read the other day that Cardinal baseball will never be the same. We will no longer see Stan on opening day as he rides the field with Brian, demonstrating his love for baseball and St. Louis. Never again will we witness his joy as he travels on a field of green. Never again will we see that Musial smile or hear a tune on the harmonica.  But in those moments of sadness, all we need do is travel to the St. Louis field of dreams known as Busch Stadium to gaze on that number 6 in that hall of fame area and remember the man, as he was once tagged in Brooklyn and carried that title the rest of his life. It is easy to understand why Commissioner Ford Frick stated at Stan’s retirement, “Here stands baseballs perfect warrior, here stands baseball’s perfect knight.

A few years ago, another great Cardinal began to acquire from others the title of El Hombre. I was edified to see that Albert Pujols vehemently rejected that title stating that there is only one “the Man”.  He even did this in Los Angeles such was his respect for his mentor. There was great affection between these two great hitters even to the point of Stan sharing that whenever Albert would see him, he would approach and give him a kiss on his forehead. I think Stan liked that!

Many believe that St. Louis is a special place for baseball. Some even call it baseball heaven. Since 1941, Stan has called St. Louis home. Stan enjoyed being Stan. He enjoyed the people and appreciated the game which, as he often said, gave him great opportunities.

And so to you, the Musial family who graciously shared your parents with the Cardinal Nation, I know that I speak for so many when we pray that, as the man has left this baseball heaven, he now shares with Lil a place in the kingdom of heaven. We pray that he may have heard the words of our savior: Welcome Stan, welcome good and faithful servant, welcome to the place prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord…….dear Stan, friend to so many, rest in peace.