A Goodbye to Stan the Man

Stan Musial is dead. 

I'm not going to lie; saying those words just doesn't feel real yet. I'm sure it will eventually become real, just another part of the world around us, but for now, I can't quite believe it. 

And you know what? That's really stupid. It isn't as if it was unexpected, or out of the blue. Stan Musial was 92 years old. His health had been declining in recent years. He had the kinds of infirmities you see in those who reach their tenth decade of life. It happens. No one lives forever. 

So why do I feel so sad right now? It just doesn't make sense. Why do I feel like I've lost something so dear? 

Because heroes aren't supposed to die, that's why. 

I wrote once before about Stan Musial; it's one of the things I'm most proud of having written here at the RFT. Now he's gone. 

Has there ever been a man more perfectly suited to be the scion of a city? Of a region? Of a tribe scattered across the heartland, all of whom buy shirts and jerseys and hats with little red birds on them and make their pilgrimages to the holy land, the one named after a beer baron? 

Stan Musial wasn't only one of the, oh, five or so best players to ever grace a baseball field, he exuded the sort of midwestern wholesomeness that would seem sickeningly nice if it weren't so genuine. We all know the bit about baseball's perfect knight, perfect gentleman, and all that, but what he meant to this city was deeper. I don't fully understand it, to be quite honest with you. He was, in some way, everything you want to look up to about the American dream, a simulacrum of a Norman Rockwell reality that never, ever existed. Except it did. The man -- excuse me, The Man -- really was all he seemed to be. 

Stan Musial wasn't supposed to die. Legends don't die. Heroes don't die. Sure, we're all going to die one day, but not myths. They live on, right? DC tried to kill off Superman, and guess what? It didn't take. That big dumb blue and red boy scout is still out there protecting Metropolis as we speak. Heroes are forever, damn it. 

If anything, Stan the Man should have died in the mid 1950s, saving Earth from destruction by batting a giant meteor into space, a split second before it collided with St. Louis, using a baseball bat carved from the femur of a palette-swapped Bonus Boss version of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which would immediately be rechristened the Musialsaurus after the event. Glory for The Man, world peace and no fiery death for the rest of us. Why world peace? Because Stan's spirit would have appeared in the clouds, Mufasa-style, and commanded it, that's why. And you can't say no to something like that. 

But, then, if he had gone out that way, no matter how glorious and awesome the biopic would have been, he wouldn't have ended up Stan Musial to us. He wasn't The Man because he did badass things in noisy ways, though 3,630 hits does have a certain...something about it. (1,815 at home, 1,815 on the road!) He was The Man because he always wore that same red jacket on Opening Day, and played the harmonica, and basically seemed like exactly what you would wish for if someone offered you the chance to poof up a perfect grandpa to call your own. 

I'm really sad this morning. This column doesn't make a damned bit of sense. I think I'm okay with that. 

Stan Musial is dead. The greatest Cardinal who ever lived is dead. Our hero, our legend, our myth, is dead. An old man who once played baseball and lived to see 92 is dead. No tragedy, no shock, just an elderly gentleman who finally reached the end of the road. A perfect knight who quietly went about the business of being The Man. All of that, and none of that. 

Stan the Man was baseball in St. Louis. There will be a hole now on Opening Day where he should be. Because legends just aren't supposed to die. Maybe by then it will feel real. Or maybe not. 

Either way, this team, and this city, this...tribe of ours, has lost something. And I miss it. A lot. 

Goodbye, Stan. You were the best.