Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29, 1963: The End of an Era; Stan The Man's Career Comes To a Close

     On September 29, 1963, one of the finest eras in the history of Major League Baseball came to an end as Stan Musial stepped on the major league diamond as a player for one last time. "The Man" went out, much like he came in, as he picked up two hits, and figured into a 3-2 Cardinals victory in St. Louis. 22 years earlier Stan had picked up two hits in his major league debut that came on September 17, 1941, and had helped the Cards take that game by an identical score. He was just a 20-year-old kid that had dreams to make it in the big leagues on that day in '41. He would not only achieve those dreams, he would become one of the greatest players to ever step on a major league diamond.

     Before the contest began against the Cincinnati Reds there was an emotional ceremony held that featured speeches from Cardinals owner August Busch, the commissioner of baseball Ford C. Frick, NL President Warren Giles, AL President Joe Cronin, the Mayor of St. Louis Raymond Tucker, as well as Missouri Governor John Dalton. Two Cub Scouts presented Stan with the neckerchief he wore throughout the ceremony, before Musial's teammates presented him with a ring that had six diamonds in the shape of the famous six that had been worn on his back for oh so long. Gussie Busch made it be known that no man who wore those birds would ever wear that number again. Musial humbly thanked the dignitaries, the fans, and God for his good fortune, before making his away around the field in a convertible where the fans that had loved him for many years cheered and waved.

     Now it was time to play some ball. Stan's 3,026th contest started out with him striking out against the Reds ace Jim Maloney who was going for his 24th win of the season. Stan had an ace in the hole as well. That ace in the hole had the name Bob Gibson written on his birth certificate, and Gibson had won 18 games up to that point. The two pitchers were locked in a duel when Musial ripped a one out single that shot by a young rookie second baseman by the name of Pete Rose in the fourth. Maloney worked his way around the inning with no damage done. He was not so lucky when Musial stepped to the dish in the sixth with one out, and knocked in Curt Flood who had doubled to leadoff the inning. "The Man" had put the Birds up 1-0, and it would be the last time he had pleasure of doing so, as Gary Kolb was sent out to first to pinch run for the man who had spent most of his adult life wearing those two birds on that bat.

     When Musial trotted off the field 27,756 souls cheered. They had just witnessed his 1,815th hit at home, which matched his 1,815 hits on the road. Baseball's perfect split for baseball's perfect knight. He had amassed a .331 career average, which had 475 home runs, as well as 1,951 RBIs attached to it. That crowd had witnessed history. There was more history to be made.

     The Birds padded the lead with back-to-back singles off the bats of Ken Boyer and Bill White that setup a Charlie James sac fly that scored  Kolb. That second Cardinals run of the day was a very important run. Gibby looked like he was going to nail it down easily, as he sailed into the ninth with 11 strikeouts. He sat down the first two men he faced, then the tables turned. Back-to-back singles, and a wild pitch later there were men at second and third, and shortstop Leo Cardenas played the spoiler by ripping a single that brought both men into score. Free baseball. Extra innings here we come.

     Gibby's day might have been spoiled, but the efforts of Ron Taylor and Ernie Broglio out of the Cardinals bullpen insured that Musial's day would not be. They kept the Reds off the board until the 14th inning, which setup Dal Maxvill to win it in the bottom of that inning with a double. Three hours and 45 minutes had ran off the clock since the first pitch crossed the dish. When that winning run scored Musial celebrated with his teammates one more time. There stood baseball's perfect warrior, there stood baseball's perfect knight. The time had come. One of the greatest eras in the history of the game had dropped the curtain.

Stan's final box score :

If you would like to read about Stan's first game, that also features a newspaper article from the day that followed check this out:

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