This has been an amazing birthday, my 56th. I’m not shy about admitting how old I am. I am proud to be 56. Or am I 57? No, no, it’s 56. Wait, I can’t find my keys.
Anyway, I’m in St. Louis, covering the Shockers in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. But today something extraordinaryStan is helped by his grandson, Brian Schwarze, during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in Washington, D.C., last month.happened. After our radio show ended at 11, I received a call from Barry Mannion, who lives in St. Louis but commutes to Wichita every week where he’s a part owner of the Wichita Technical Institute.
A while back, my Wichita friends Rex and Karen Befort told me they knew a guy who knew a guy who might be able to put me in touch with Stan Musial. You might have heard him, he’s one of the 10 best hitters in the history of baseball.
I appreciated the sentiment, but thought it was a long shot. Then I came down with a cold and put off contacting Mannion, who is the friend of a friend. Finally, though, I called him Thursday night, just before driving over to St. Louis with my wife, Debbie. He told me there was a chance we could meet Musial at his office, STM (Stan the Man) Inc., on Friday during the noon hour.
With apologies to Albert Pujols, Musial is the greatest St. Louis Cardinals player ever. Not to get all baseball on you, but here’s where he ranks all-time in a bunch of offensive categories: 3,630 hits (4), 1,951 RBI (6), 725 doubles (3), 1,949 runs (9), 6,134 total bases (2).
So, some of you whipper snappers get the idea.
Meeting Musial was never even on my radar before it was mentioned to me I might have a chance. Even then, I couldn’t believe it would happen.
But it did.
Mannion (what a guy, by the way) picked up Debbie and me at our hotel and drove us to Musial’s office in West St. Louis County. We entered a building and went to the end of the hallway. There was a door with a simple sign – STM Inc. Mannion rang a buzzer and we were met by Dick Ziztmann, Musial’s business partner for the past 13 years.
We entered into a storage room that housed much of Musial’s memorabilia, then entered a smaller room, a really tight smaller room, where Musial was sitting at a desk signing pictures of himself being given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama last month. One after the other with the help of one of his grandson, Brian Schwarze.
It was like an assembly line. Schwarze handed Musial one photo after another, telling him who to make them out to. And Musial pressed his Sharpie against a blank piece of paper while he waited for the next one to sign. Not much else was said.
When Ziztmann asked Musial if he had time to meet a couple of people from Wichita, he politely stopped what he was doing, turned his chair toward and us and extended his right fist. He didn’t shake our hands, but he gave us a fist bump. So, technically, I cannot say I shook hands with Stan Musial.
I’m not sure what I said. I think I said something. Surely I said something and didn’t just stand there like an idiot. I believe I told Musial that meeting him was a tremendous honor. And I’m pretty sure I congratulated him on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But that’s about it. I tried to get out of his way, but the cordial Ziztmann wouldn’t let us.
He asked if Debbie and I would like to have one of the Musial-Obama photos signed by Musial. Well, hmm, ARE YOU KIDDING!!! Of course we would.
So, graciously, Stan signed another one that will be prominently displayed in my Cardinals memorabilia collection.
It was amazing to see Musial, even as he’s declining. Still, Ziztmann told me Musial comes into the office five days a week for an hour or so. He’s usually there from 11 a.m. until noon, after which he often goes to lunch at the nearby Missouri Athletic Club, which has a restaurant in his name. That’s where we had lunch Friday and, sure enough, Musial came in with Ziztmann, his grandson and his office manager. They sat at their regular table in the corner, overseeing tennis courts below.
Musial, Ziztmann said, plans on being at Opening Day, March 31, when the Cardinals take on the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium. He won’t, however, make in to spring training in Florida this year.
Musial’s wife of 72 years, Lil, is still doing well, Ziztmann said. In fact, she was busy having her her done Friday.
What an amazing birthday. I’m so glad Debbie was with me to meet Musial. It’s a cherished event in my lifetime and I couldn’t help but think about my late father, Ray, who loved Musial and inspired my love for the Cardinals.