Obama, Give Cardinals Great Stan Musial the Medal of Freedom

The president should honor Musial while people are hungry for good news and a reminder of what American greatness can be.

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It’s a hot Friday in August here in Washington, and what little news there is is just depressing. The latest jobs numbers show a stalled recovery and unemployment stuck at 9.5 percent. Politico is reporting that things in the Senate are “getting a little weird.” (That’s breaking news? We’ve all known that for a while.) Peggy Noonan writes that the nation is in trouble and that the “American Dream needs a boost.” And if I have to see one more promo for Jersey Shore I think I’ll get sick. No wonder most Americans think our country is on the wrong track.

Here’s an idea to get people in a little bit of a better mood: President Obama should give baseball legend Stan Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Other baseball greats have been recipients of it: Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Frank Robinson. I was there in the White House Rose Garden during a similarly hot, slow summer in 1991 when Williams and DiMaggio were honored by President Bush 41, and people loved it. (This was just a ceremony honoring them. DiMaggio had already gotten the Medal of Freedom earlier; Bush gave Williams the Medal about six months later, in November of 1991.)

In fact, the people of St. Louis, where Stan the Man played for so many years, have launched a campaign called “Stand for Stan!” to get grassroots support for the idea. They’ve got a Facebook page and the Cardinals have an official petition to President Obama for fans to sign. (Of course I just signed it.)

The current issue of Sports Illustrated has Stan the Man on the cover, and mentions the idea briefly in its profile of the man known as baseball’s “Perfect Knight.” You must read Sports Illustrated’s article. So should your kids. At different times in his long career with the Cardinals, according to SI, he led the National League in batting average, slugging, hits, doubles, triples, runs, RBIs, walks, intentional walks, and total bases. He played 22 seasons with the Cardinals--imagine that these days--and was in 24 All Star games (serving in the Navy in World War II along the way). Among the many great stories about him there’s a particularly good one from the article, told to the author by Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Joe Black:

He was pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals—this was 1952, his rookie year, his best year. Black had come out of the Negro leagues, and he was young, and he pitched fearlessly. He thought this happened the first time he faced the Cardinals; Black pitched three scoreless innings that day. But he wasn't entirely sure that was the day. What he remembered clearly, though, was the voice booming from the Cardinals' dugout while he was pitching to Musial.

"Don't worry, Stan," that someone from the Cardinals dugout had yelled. "With that dark background on the mound, you shouldn't haven't any problem hitting the ball."

Musial did not show any reaction at all. He never did when he hit. He simply spat on the ground and got into his famous peek-a-boo batting stance—the one that Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons said "looked like a small boy looking around a corner to see if the cops are coming"—and he flied out. It was after the game, when Black was in the clubhouse, that he looked up and saw Stan Musial.

"I'm sorry that happened," Black remembered Musial whispering. "But don't you worry about it. You're a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games."

Yes, Joe Black told the story often—and it's a good story. But what I remember about the way he told it on the plane that day was how proud Black was to be connected to Musial. This is the common theme when people tell their Musial stories. No one tries to make Musial larger than life—he was only as large as life. He didn't make a show. He didn't make speeches. He didn't try to change the world. He just believed that every man had the right to be treated with dignity.

Great writing about a great American, the son of immigrants. The president should honor Musial before he gets any older--he’s 90 now--and while people are hungry for good news and a reminder of what American greatness can be. As Musial would say, Whaddya say!