By modern baseball standards, Matt Holliday had a Stan Musial-type season for the Cardinals in 2012.
Holliday led the 2012 Cardinals in hits (177), runs scored (95), doubles (36), RBI (102), walks (75) and on-base percentage (.379).
He is the first Cardinals left fielder to pace the team in each of those six categories since Stan Musial did it in 1953.
(The last player to lead St. Louis in hits, runs scored, doubles, RBI, walks and on-base percentage in a season was first baseman Albert Pujols in 2009.)
Holliday ranked in the top 10 in the National League for 2012 in hits (10th), runs (7th), RBI (7th), walks (5th) and on-base percentage (8th). He missed by two doubles of tying Angel Pagan of the Giants for 10th.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, in an interview with Bernie Miklasz on St. Louis radio station 101ESPN Nov. 1, called Holliday “probably one of the toughest players I ever saw play this game.”
Still, Holliday didn’t approach the numbers Musial achieved in 1953.
Starting 133 games in left field (only two other players, rookie Harry Elliott and veteran Peanuts Lowrey, made starts in left field for St. Louis that year), Musial led the 1953 Cardinals in hits (200), runs scored (127), doubles (53), RBI (113), walks (105) and on-base percentage (.437).
Musial led the 1953 National League in doubles (Alvin Dark of the Giants was second with 41), walks (Jim Gilliam of the Dodgers was second with 100) and on-base percentage (Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers was second at .425).
Musial ranked second in the league in both runs scored (five behind Duke Snider of the Dodgers) and hits (five behind Richie Ashburn of the Phillies) and was seventh in RBI (Roy Campanella of the Dodgers was first with 142).
Holliday and Musial each came close to not leading his team in one of those six categories in those years. Holliday had just one more double than first baseman Allen Craig in 2012. Musial had just one more RBI than third baseman Ray Jablonski in 1953.
Musial’s 53 doubles in ’53 were his single-season career high. His 113 RBI were his most since 1949 and fourth-highest single-season mark of his career.
It was, wrote Bob Broeg in an October 1953 edition The Sporting News, “the top all-around year in the last four by Stan Musial, still the game’s outstanding star.”
Broeg continued: Musial, overcoming the slowest start of his career, finished furiously by hitting safely in the club’s last 15 games … From June 17, when he was hitting only .251, Musial went all-out and batted a sizzling .385 in the next 101 contests.
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (Doubleday, 1964), Musial thanked his legion of fans for sticking with him during his early-season travails and for offering “prayers, suggestions and good-luck charms.”
“I received enough four-leafed clovers to feed a horse, enough rabbits feet to make every Easter bunny a basket case,” Musial wrote.
Musial credited manager Eddie Stanky with finding the key that ended the slump. “I took a long, private morning batting practice with Eddie Stanky watching,” Musial wrote. “He detected that I was striding too far and not bending my left knee.”
A New York advertising friend provided Musial with film taken a few years earlier of Musial hitting. “At my peak,” Musial wrote, “my stride was just 12 inches. Now I was striding nearly twice that far.”
In 12 games, starting June 17, Musial raised his batting average from .251 to .303.
The Cardinals posted similar records in 1953 and 2012. St. Louis was 83-71 (a .539 winning percentage) in 1953 and finished tied for third with the Phillies in the eight-team National League. The 2012 Cardinals were 88-74 (a .543 winning percentage), finished in second place in the NL Central and qualified for the postseason as the second wild-card team.
Said Musial to The Sporting News: “Even after that slow start, I believe I had a good year. I’m just sorry it wasn’t enough to help the club finish higher.”