Stan Musial and Derek Jeter, two of the classiest players in big-league history, share at least one other trait: Each was able to hit at an unprecedented level at an age when most are winding down their baseball careers.
This year, Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop, joined Musial as the oldest major-league players since 1900 to collect 50 hits through his first 30 games of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. At age 37, Musial had 51 hits in his first 30 games for the 1958 Cardinals. Jeter, 37, had 50 hits in his first 30 games this season for the Yankees. (Jeter turns 38 on June 26).
As impressive as Jeter performed this year, Musial was better in 1958, producing more hits in fewer at-bats. Here is a comparison of what Musial and Jeter achieved through 30 games:
MUSIAL, 1958 JETER, 2012
At-Bats: 111 At-Bats: 129
Hits: 51 Hits: 50
Doubles: 12 Doubles: 9
Home runs: 8 Home runs: 5
RBI: 24 RBI: 15
Batting average: .459 Batting average: .388
On-base percentage: .530 On-base percentage: .429
Slugging percentage: .784 Slugging percentage: .574
Musial hit safely in his first 17 games of 1958. He produced hits in 26 of the first 30 games he played.
After winning his seventh National League batting championship in 1957, Musial entered the ’58 season with confidence. At a Chamber of Commerce banquet in St. Louis on the eve of the season opener, Musial told the audience he believed in his ability “to keep on hitting,” The Sporting News reported.
A few days later, Musial told St. Louis writer Bob Broeg, “I feel great. You know, if I hadn’t missed that one season in service (1945) I might have been able to hang around long enough to have gone for 4,000 hits. In those days, I was good for 215 to 225 a season. Anyway, that’s how good I feel now.”
Here is a look at the top five performances by Musial in those 30 games.
_ April 17, 1958, Cubs 4, Cardinals 3, at St. Louis: After he had struck out looking against Chicago’s Jim Brosnan in his first two at-bats of the season and went 1-for-5 in the April 15 season opener, Musial came back in the next game with a 2-for-4 performance, including a home run against Cubs rookie Glen Hobbie. Musial broke Mel Ott’s National League record of 5,041 total bases, reaching 5,046 for his career in this game. Boxscore
_ April 20, 1958, Cardinals 9, Cubs 4, at Chicago: After losing their first four games, the Cardinals earned their first win behind a pair of two-run home runs by Musial. He launched one off Brosnan in the first inning and another off Taylor Phillips in the fifth. (A month later, the Cubs traded Brosnan to St. Louis.)
It was the 31st time Musial had hit two or more home runs in a game. At the time, only Ted Williams, with 33, had totaled more among active major leaguers. The home runs gave Musial a career total of 385, sixth on the all-time big-league list then. Boxscore
“I could have another five good years if I played in Chicago all the time,” Musial said to the Associated Press. “You play in the afternoon, go home to a good dinner and then relax. The next day you’re ready to tear the ball apart.”
_ April 22, 1958, Cardinals 7, Giants 5, at San Francisco: In the Cardinals’ first regular-season game played at San Francisco, Musial went 3-for-5 and scored twice before a near capacity crowd of 22,786 on a Tuesday night at Seals Stadium. Boxscore
Musial received a thunderous ovation his first time at-bat. Among those in attendance was Ty Cobb, the major-league career leader in hits. Musial and Cobb met in the dugout before the game. Cobb stayed to watch Musial play.
“He showed me that at 37 his legs are still good. And that’s the life of a ballplayer _ his legs,” Cobb said to The Sporting News. “I’ve always contended Joe DiMaggio could have lasted five years longer had he used his legs more in the winter.
“Musial’s speed impressed me. Too many long-ball hitters today think they’re paid only to hit homers. Musial always hits his share of them. But he also fields and runs the bases. Stan is of the stripe who played in my time. There are too few of them today.”
_ April 25, 1958, Dodgers 5, Cardinals 3, at Los Angeles: On a Friday, before a Coliseum crowd of 60,636, a National League record for a night game, Musial went 4-for-4 in the Cardinals’ first regular-season game at Los Angeles. Boxscore
Musial would finish with a .636 batting average (14-for-22) on the six-game road trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“He was out there to live up to his reputation, to put on a show and he really did,” Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson said to The Sporting News. “He gave a tremendous display of determination and concentration.”
_ May 13, 1958, Cardinals 5, Cubs 3, at Chicago: Pinch-hitting for pitcher Sam Jones in the sixth inning, Musial delivered his 3,000th career hit, a RBI-double to left-center on a 2-and-2 curve by Moe Drabowsky. Boxscore
Musial became the eighth major leaguer to reach 3,000 hits, joining Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Paul Waner and Cap Anson.
“It isn’t every day a man gets his 3,000th hit,” the Associated Press reported Musial saying. ‘I knew it was in there and I’m sure glad it was a good, clean shot.”