This year is the golden jubilee of one of the most remarkable seasons in the career of Stan Musial.
In 1962, at age 41, Musial, thought by some to be finished, produced like a star player in his prime. He placed second in the National League in on-base percentage (.416) and third in batting average (.330), with 143 hits in 135 games and 82 RBI.
Fifty years later, it remains one of the great performances by a player 40 or older.
After hitting .310 or better in each of his first 17 big-league seasons, Musial failed to reach .300 in three consecutive years (1959-61). Many assumed the 1962 season would be his last and that he might be relegated to part-time status.
Musial worked out diligently after the 1961 season and reported to spring training in top shape in 1962. “I came into camp this year weighing 184, four pounds lighter than a year ago,” Musial told The Sporting News. “And believe me, those four pounds make a difference.”
From the start of spring training, Musial hit well _ “The Man had one of the best springs of his career,” The Sporting News reported _ and Cardinals manager Johnny Keane developed a plan to rest Musial as required during the 162-game season schedule.
Keane elected to open the season with an outfield of Musial, 41, in right, Minnie Minoso, 36, in left, and Curt Flood, 24, in center.
At a community luncheon before the season opener, Musial said he told Minoso, “We’re going to keep Flood in good condition. I’ll catch whatever comes to me and you catch whatever comes to you. Curt can have everything else.”
Musial established a blistering pace to open the season. Here is what he did in his first three games:
_ April 11, vs. the Mets, at St. Louis: Musial was 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and 2 RBI in the Cardinals’ 11-4 victory. Boxscore
_ April 13, vs. the Cubs, at Chicago: Musial was 2-for-4 in the Cardinals’ 8-5 victory. Boxscore
_ April 14, vs. the Cubs, at Chicago: Musial had a home run, 2 RBI and a stolen base in the Cardinals’ 7-4 victory. The steal was Musial’s first in two years. Surprised Cubs catcher Cuno Barragan, unprepared for Musial’s theft attempt, threw wildly into center field, enabling Stan to scamper to third. Boxscore
“The Cubs, feeling that old guy won’t be going any place, patently ignored him and he was off and running,” reported The Sporting News.
Said Musial: “My boy, Dick, came over from Notre Dame for that game and he said he got a much bigger kick out of watching me steal the base than he did in seeing me hit a home run.”
Musial batted .396 (19-for-48) for April. His batting average dipped below .300 only once (.298 on May 24) all season. In July, undeterred by the steamy St. Louis summer, Musial hit .397 (27-for-68).
On Aug. 9, Musial led the NL in batting at .354, nine points better than second-place Tommy Davis of the Dodgers.
All season, Musial continued to defy the odds with sensational performances. Among the most notable:
_ May 19, vs. the Dodgers, at Los Angeles: Musial broke an 0-for-9 slump with a ninth-inning single off a Ron Perranoski curveball. The hit was No. 3,431 for Musial, breaking the NL record of Honus Wagner.
“When I finally got to first base after breaking the record, I felt so relaxed I could have fallen over,” Musial told the Associated Press. “That’s when I realized the pressure had been on.” Boxscore
_ July 8, vs. the Mets, at New York: Musial hit 3 home runs in the Cardinals’ 15-1 victory. Fifty years later, he remains the oldest player to achieve the feat. Boxscore
_ July 25, vs. the Dodgers, at St. Louis: Musial hit a two-run homer off Don Drysdale, giving Stan a NL-record 1,861 RBI, breaking the mark held by Mel Ott. Boxscore
_ Sept. 27, vs. the Giants, at San Francisco: Musial went 5-for-5 with 2 runs scored in the Cardinals’ 7-4 victory. Boxscore
After the season, Musial was named the NL comeback player of the year in a poll of national baseball writers conducted by the Associated Press.
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964, Doubleday), Musial wrote: “What gave me my greatest thrill in 1962 was the year I had at bat … I walked out there, day after day, certain I would play, confident I would hit. It was like old times.”