January 21, 2013
When Stan Musial began his final tour of the league, writer Ted O’Leary and myself accompanied him for a Sports Illustrated story. And that was when I began to understand the great respect and affection he held throughout major league baseball.
For in every city before his final game there, there were recognitions, gifts and celebrations. Many of them were giving him rocking chairs. Stan graciously accepted the accolades as his career in baseball wound down. But I think he missed as much as anything, having dinner at his favorite restaurant in each league city — for Stan savored good food almost before anything else. We accompanied him to several of his favorite haunts, but they should probably not be called haunts — for at each, the maitre’d greeted him with great aplomb as they were all five-star restaurants. He was greeted as a patron, not a baseball superstar. Stan could have written restaurant reviews for Gourmet magazine, but preferred to just eat.
Shortly after his retirement from baseball, Lyndon Johnson appointed him Director of the President’s Council on physical fitness and sport succeeding Bud Wilkinson. Stan was more of a figure head, but the job entailed traveling to various cities for public appearances, which meant dinners. Stan probably enjoyed finding new restaurants at cities not on the National League circuit as much as any part of the job, and it was during this time, V. L. Nishonlson working for the Council, commisioned me to make photographs at an event at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. When we all got to the hotel, the reservations were confused and everyone was doubling up. Thus, my roommate was Stan Musial. We checked in, sat down on the beds, each trying to think of something to begin a conversation. I didn’t know that much about baseball and he didn’t know that much about anything else. Until I suggested it was time to think about dinner.
After retirement from baseball, Stan and his friend Biggie started a restaurant in his beloved St. Louis which was always the place to go. And for many years, Stan was there to visit with patrons and have dinner.
That time at Colorado Springs, talk of dinner triggered the converstion and a long evening in which we were joined by others in the Council group. (The restaurant didn’t make Stan’s A-list but it was a great time.) In the course of those years photographing him, one of my pictures — an informal portrait sitting on the bench during batting practIce — became perhaps Stan’s favorite picture of himself (so he said) and I reprinted it many times for him to sign for others. When he would ask me for a print, he was always apologetic for causing me the trouble.
He was the most gracious and beloved athlete that I have ever encountered in my 60 or so years photographing sports notables and events.
And his picture, signed to me, hangs in the favorite place in my home today…