An encounter with Joe DiMaggio preceded my only meeting with Stan Musial.
In January 1989, I resided in Pembroke Pines, Fla., located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Super Bowl XXIII, featuring the Bengals and 49ers in the last game coached by San Francisco’s Bill Walsh, was being held in Miami that month.
Among the many Super Bowl festivities in the days leading up to the game was a weekday celebrity golf tournament on the Blue Monster course at the Doral resort in Miami. Among the celebrities: Stan Musial.
I was 32 and a lifelong fan of Musial, but I never had met him. Figuring I might never get another chance, I hatched a plan. I would go to Doral and attempt to meet him. I brought a Sharpie pen, my 1963 Topps Musial baseball card, a notebook and a ballpoint pen. My hope was to have Musial autograph the card or a page in the notebook.
I arrived mid-morning. Amazingly, there was no admission charge, no restrictions and virtually no spectators. I parked, walked onto the grounds and made my way to a concrete path behind what turned out to be the ninth green, near where I had entered.
Three men, all close to my age then, were the only people nearby. Two appeared to be acquainted with one another and seemed to be there just to see celebrities. The third clearly was either a memorabilia dealer or a representative of one. He had a large bag and inside it were pristine baseballs wrapped individually in cardboard boxes.
I asked the guy with the baseballs whether he knew how long it might be before Musial and his group appeared.
“DiMaggio is coming up to the tee,” he said, pointing to a patch of turf across a pond. “Musial is in the group after that.”
“DiMaggio?” I responded. “I’m here to see Musial.”
The four of us stood apart, watching a group hit to the green of the par-3 ninth. Soon, a pair of golf carts rolled along the perimeter of the pond and up the path toward us. There, in the lead cart, was the silver-haired Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio.
We stood frozen, keeping a respectful distance, as DiMaggio and his group walked onto the green. As they putted, I edged closer to DiMaggio’s cart.
The idea of meeting Stan Musial left me awestruck. I respected DiMaggio, but, naively or not, didn’t revere him.
After the group had putted out and DiMaggio neared his cart, I approached. I could feel the other three guys pressing behind me, like the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion did when Dorothy met the Wizard of Oz.
I reached for the notebook and the ballpoint pen.
“Mr. DiMaggio,” I said. “May I have your autograph?”
DiMaggio looked purposefully into the eyes of each of us.
“I’ll remember you,” he said, addressing us as a group. “I better not see any of you behind the 18th green, asking for another autograph.”
With that, he reached for my notebook and pen and signed his name. (The autograph I received is shown above.)
He signed a baseball for the memorabilia guy and he signed something, though I didn’t notice what, for the other two.
For me, that was the appetizer. A best-in-class gem, indeed, but still an appetizer to the main course.
Next on the tee, Stan Musial.
We watched as Musial and his group hit their shots across the pond. I stood transfixed as the carts headed toward us. First thing I noticed was Musial had a cigar. They walked onto the green and finished the hole. I told the others I wanted to approach Musial first. They could tell I meant it.
As he neared his cart, I introduced myself and began telling him the story of how I became a fan of Stan Musial and the Cardinals. He listened carefully but showed little reaction. I felt like I was babbling and was rushing to finish. When I was done, he replied with three words: “Wonderful. Thank you.”
I was delighted.
I held up the baseball card and Sharpie. He signed with a careful and purposeful stroke. I appreciated that.
Then he turned to the others and signed autographs for them.
As he did, one of his playing partners, who had been listening to what I had said, came up to me.
“He’s every bit as nice a person as you have heard and what you would hope,” the stranger said to me.
It was just what I needed to hear.
“If you want,” Musial’s playing partner said to me, “you can follow along on the next hole.”
I walked to the 10th tee, a par-5, and watched Musial and his group hit their shots. They roared off in their carts and I followed behind, watching each hit a second shot.
By now, though, I was feeling more like a stalker than a loyal fan.
I turned and headed back to the parking lot.
I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I had met Stan Musial. I got to tell him my story and how much he meant to me. I had gotten a personal autograph. There was nothing more to do.
And, oh, yeah, I got stared down by Joe DiMaggio, too.
Previously: How Stan Musial made me a Cardinals fan