When Lukasz Musial settled in Pennsylvania after leaving his native Poland, he, like many immigrants of that time, enjoyed following the exploits of Babe Ruth, a symbol of all that was possible in America.
Imagine then the significance to Stan Musial when, 50 years ago this month, he became the big-league career leader in extra-base hits, breaking the mark held for almost 30 years by none other than Babe Ruth.
On May 8, 1963, Musial, 42, hit a home run off former teammate Bob Miller of the Dodgers, giving the Cardinals’ standout 1,357 career extra-base hits, surpassing the standard established by Ruth (1,356). Boxscore
In the book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964, Doubleday), Musial wrote, “I’m proud to have more extra-base hits than any player … but, to me, Ruth is still champ. After all, let’s face it, I went to bat some 2,500 more times than the No. 1 slugger.”
Musial was 20 and playing for the Cardinals’ farm club at Rochester, N.Y., in 1941 when he first met Ruth. Musial offered a compelling description of that encounter (with help from the book’s contributor, St. Louis journalist Bob Broeg):
Ruth came to town to put on a hitting exhibition and to present a trophy in behalf of Rochester fans to their most popular player that 1941 season, first baseman Harry Davis.
The Babe was 47 then, heavy-bellied and out of competition for six years. His timing was way off, but finally he connected with a pitch from (Rochester manager Tony) Kaufmann, who served as his special batting practice pitcher, and lifted it far out of the ballpark. I got a big thrill out of watching that ancient, still-fabulous hitter demonstrate why my father thought there was only one Bambino. Pop was so right.
I confess, though, that I was awed _ and maybe a little disillusioned _ when Ruth sat on our bench during the game, pulled out a pint of whiskey from his pocket and emptied it.
Twenty-two years later, shortly after Musial broke Ruth’s extra-base hits record, a memo sheet posted on the Cardinals’ clubhouse bulletin board asked players whether they had participated in Babe Ruth League baseball. On the bottom of the sheet, The Sporting News reported, Musial wrote, “I played with Babe Ruth.”
In his book, Musial opened a chapter with this paragraph:
I believe Babe Ruth was the greatest who ever played because he was an outstanding pitcher and good outfielder who best combined the abilities to hit for great power and high average. Imagine, while hitting 714 homers, he struck out more than 1,300 times and still averaged .342 for his career.
A couple of weeks after Musial set the extra-base hits mark, he was profiled in the The Saturday Evening Post. “I’ll hit until I’m 50,” Musial said.
Asked by the publication for a set of guidelines he’d recommend a young player to follow in seeking a long big-league career, Musial offered six tips:
_ Keep your weight down.
_ Run a mile a day.
_ Get eight hours of sleep regularly.
_ If you must smoke, try lightweight cigars. They cut down on inhaling.
_ Take vitamins as recommended by a doctor.
_ Make it a point to bat .300.
The extra-base hits category (total of doubles, triples and homers hit) is one of the most underrated in baseball. The top five in career extra-base hits are:
_ Hank Aaron, 1,477
_ Barry Bonds, 1,440
_ Stan Musial, 1,377
_ Babe Ruth, 1,356
_ Willie Mays, 1,323