As a tribute to Stan Musial on his 92nd birthday today, Nov. 21, 2012, we’re taking a look at the daring and savvy that helped make him the Cardinals’ greatest player.
One of the more remarkable yet unheralded feats in his Hall of Fame career is this: Musial stole home four times for the Cardinals.
Musial played nearly a decade in the major leagues before he swiped home. Then, he did it four times within four years.
(To put that in perspective, Lou Brock, the National League leader in career steals, stole home just twice, once as a Cub and once as a Cardinal.)
A smart baserunner rather than a prolific base-stealer, Musial had 78 stolen bases in a 22-year Cardinals career. His single-season high was nine in 1943, his second full year in the big leagues.
Yet early in his professional playing days Musial earned a reputation for his cunning on the basepaths.
In the book “Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man” (2001, Missouri), author James N. Giglio wrote: Although swiping only six bases in 1942, he became a terror in taking the extra base or in flustering the pitcher by threatening to steal.
Giglio described how, in a 1942 game at Pittsburgh, Musial tripled and scored the tying run when he faked a steal of home, causing the pitcher, Luke Hamlin, to balk.
That alertness and hustle paid off dramatically for Musial and the Cardinals on May 24, 1950, at the Polo Grounds in New York. In the eighth inning, the Cardinals led, 1-0, when Musial singled against Giants starter Monty Kennedy. The next batter, Johnny Lindell, reached on an error and Musial advanced to second.
With Enos Slaughter at the plate, Kennedy unleashed what was recorded as a wild pitch. According to the United Press wire service, the ball “dropped right in front of the plate but the daring Musial made it to third.”
After Slaughter popped out, stranding Musial and Lindell, Marty Marion came to the plate. Carl Lundquist, writing for the United Press, described what happened next: When Kennedy rashly tried to pick Lindell off first, Stan streaked for home _ the first time in his career he had stolen the plate.
An Associated Press photo of the play shows Giants catcher Wes Westrum straddling the plate, his arms extended as he awaits the throw from first baseman Tookie Gilbert, while Musial slides toward the dish.
“It’s that old Cardinal Gas House spirit,” St. Louis manager Eddie Dyer said to reporters of Musial’s steal. “You can laugh all you want to, boys, but it still wins ballgames.”
The run provided insurance for Cardinals reliever Cloyd Boyer, who completed the shutout for a 2-0 St. Louis victory. Boxscore
Musial stole home again the next year. On Sept. 18, 1951, at St. Louis, Musial was on third and Slaughter on first with two out in the sixth when Johnny Schmitz of the Dodgers relieved Ralph Branca. On a perfectly executed double steal, Musial raced home with the final run of a 7-1 St. Louis victory. Boxscore
For the entire 1953 season, Musial swiped three bases _ two were steals of home and both came against the Phillies.
On July 24, 1953, at Philadelphia, starter Bob Miller issued a walk to Musial, who advanced to second on an error and to third on a wild pitch. With two out, Musial took off for the plate. An Associated Press photo shows catcher Stan Lopata tagging Musial on his right knee while Musial’s left foot is across the plate. Phillies manager Steve O’Neill protested, but the photo is evidence umpire Bill Jackowski made the correct call.
The sixth-inning steal of home tied the score 1-1, but, in the bottom of the ninth, Phillies second baseman Granny Hamner hit his second of two solo home runs off starter Harvey Haddix, lifting Philadelphia to a 2-1 victory. Boxscore
Nearly two months later, Sept. 13, 1953, at St. Louis, Musial stole home again versus the Phillies, this time with Curt Simmons pitching. In the first inning, with a run in and two out, Musial was on third and Ray Jablonski on first when the pair of Polish Falcons executed a double steal, igniting the offense in a 17-3 Cardinals triumph. Musial had three hits and three walks in six plate appearances in the game. Boxscore