As a player, Stan Musial rose to the challenge of converting from a pitcher to an outfielder. The move saved his career and launched him on a path to becoming the all-time greatest Cardinal. As an executive, Musial continued to take on challenges. He joined the Cardinals’ front office as a vice president in 1963 and, four years later, accepted a second role.
Musial, 46, surprised many when he became Cardinals general manager on Jan. 23, 1967 — 50 years ago. Musial took the job a day after it was announced Bob Howsam, the Cardinals’ general manager since August 1964, had resigned to become executive vice president and general manager of the Reds.
At the time, Musial had many business and civic achievements. He owned a restaurant, a hotel and a sports equipment company, and he was an ambassador in promoting physical fitness for President Lyndon Johnson.
Still, he missed being directly involved in big-league baseball.
“The main reason I took the job is that I found myself with nothing to do,” Musial said to columnist Dick Young in The Sporting News. “I’d go into the restaurant, spend an hour or so there, and then have a lot of time on my hands for the rest of the day. All my other interests are pretty much running themselves. My son (Dick Musial) is running my sporting goods business and everything else is going smoothly. I needed something to do.”
Lillian Musial, Stan’s wife, explained that her husband’s decision was driven by a desire “to be closer to baseball again.”
Ready or not
When Howsam informed the Cardinals in January 1967 he was departing, club owner Gussie Busch said it took 15 minutes to decide Musial should become general manager. “We called a meeting of the executive committee and we decided right away,” Busch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Musial, whose first full season in the big leagues was 1942, said: “It’s taken me 25 years to reach this station and, you know, I kind of think I deserve it.”
As vice president, Musial had developed “an increasingly larger voice in the direction of the club, especially in regard to making trades.” the Post-Dispatch reported. “Musial indicated that he could have had the general manager job much earlier.”
Said Busch: “Since his retirement as an active player, he has become familiar with front office operations. He has served an apprenticeship as few men have in baseball.”
Stan and friends
Musial agreed to work with no contract _ “I might say that Mr. Busch’s word is better than a contract,” Musial said _ and for a salary of about $35,000.
As general manager, Musial’s first move was to hire Bob Stewart as executive assistant. Stewart, a former athletic director at St. Louis University, had earned Musial’s trust and respect as administrator of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Stewart’s role was key, because Musial “will concentrate on the playing personnel instead of devoting considerable time to routine administrative phases of the club’s operation,” the Post-Dispatch reported.
Musial had another trusted ally in Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst. They were longtime friends and had been road roommates as players.
Schoendienst entered the 1967 season, his third as Cardinals manager, with a one-year contract. The Cardinals hadn’t contended since he replaced Johnny Keane.
“It is only fair to say that both Stan and Red fully understand that record _ and not personal friendship _ will be the judge of the future,” Busch said.
Unfazed, Musial said, “Red has had a couple of years under his belt in rebuilding the ballclub and I’m sure we’ll work together well and be together a long time.”
Said Schoendienst: “I know Stan well and he knows me well. He just might make me work harder.”
Media reaction to Musial’s hiring was supportive but cautious.
Bob Broeg, Post-Dispatch sports editor, wrote, “For Musial, stepping in to run a ballclub rather than into the batter’s box, is a risk for which The Man must be prepared. … It’ll be no easy job.”
In an editorial, The Sporting News suggested, “Musial is risking his hero toga in moving behind the GM desk for the club to which he contributed so much on the field.”
Asked whether his nice guy reputation might conflict with being a general manager, Musial told Young, “I can be as tough as I have to be, but that’s overdone. You don’t have to be tough at trade talks. I’ve sat in on enough of them to know. The hardest part is cutting some player’s pay.”
Broeg revealed a comment Musial made when they had worked together on his autobiography: “Most friends … think I don’t want to be a manager because I’d find it too hard not to be easy on the players,” Musial confided. “I’m afraid I’d be too demanding.”
That’s a winner
In Musial’s lone season in the dual role of vice president and general manager, the Cardinals won the 1967 National League pennant and World Series title. Though the roster largely was built by his predecessors _ Bing Devine and Howsam _ Musial did more as general manager than he usually gets credited for doing.
Musial created an atmosphere of confidence and professionalism that enabled players and staff to relax and perform at their best. It was quite a contrast to Howsam, who had hounded players with memos that told them how to dress, stand and sit and who had made it known he had a friend, minor-league manager Charlie Metro, waiting in the wings to take over for Schoendienst if the Cardinals skipper stumbled.
Howsam was the executive who acquired right fielder Roger Maris for the 1967 Cardinals, but it was Musial who closed the deal. Maris was considering retiring when the Yankees traded him to St. Louis. After Howsam departed, Musial listened to Maris’ concerns without pressuring him, made him feel appreciated and convinced the skittish slugger to report to spring training.
Said Maris: “It should be good working with men like Musial and Schoendienst because they know all about the game.”
Previously: Why Bob Howsam left Cardinals for Reds