By Father Gabe Costa
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The World Series is finally upon us. The American League-pennant winners, the Boston Red Sox, will square off against their National League counterparts, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Of late, it seems like the Redbirds are part of the Fall Classic every other year, and the BoSox have been flexing their muscles ever since The Curse of the Bambino was lifted nine years ago. Both of these storied franchises hail from great baseball cities. And yet, while they can boast of 18 world titles between them, they have only crossed swords three times in the past.
In 1946, the Cardinals edged the Red Sox in seven games. This was the Series where Enos “Country” Slaughter made his mad dash for home plate in the series finale.
In 1967, the Carl Yastrzemski-led Beantowners pushed the Cards to the limit again. When the dust settled, Cardinals ace Bob Gibson outpitched a valiant but tiring Jim Lonborg in Game 7.
In 2004, the Red Sox left no doubt about any curse as they swept the Cardinals in four games.
And in a week or so we shall see who prevails in this World Series.
In this installment of By The Numbers, I would like to reminisce a bit about the two players who I feel were the greatest all-time members of their respective teams. I was fortunate to see (either on TV or in person) both of them during their careers as players.
I write of Stan Musial and Ted Williams.
Musial was a graceful player who epitomized class. He was a first baseman/outfielder who batted and threw left-handed. His hitting stance reminded one of a corkscrew or a tightened spring. He had an ever-present smile and was universally liked and respected by his teammates, opposing players and the umpires. He had over 3,600 hits, swatted 475 home runs and retired with a slew of milestones. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible and, I believe, it is difficult not to include him on any All-Time Top 10 position list.
Williams was known as The Thumper. I saw him hit a home run in the very first game I attended (September of 1960 at Yankee Stadium). I still remember watching this left-handed slugger in the batter’s box.
The way he would nervously move and crane his neck … the way he would grind and churn the bat handle … the way he would be ready to unleash his deadly swing on a good pitch. He would hit .406 in 1941. He would accumulate over 2,000 bases on balls. And, like Musial, he would serve his country in the Armed Forces. He was a man of multiple personalities. He was “The Eternal Kid” in many ways.
And at Fenway Park, in late September of 1960, he would hit his 521st home run against Jack Fisher of the Baltimore Orioles. Williams would never play in a Major League game again. In time, sabermetrical analysis would reveal that Williams would rank with greatest hitters ever, surpassed only by Babe Ruth.
Musial and Williams, No. 6 and No. 9, left us a wonderful legacy. Their numbers are sterling, but they only tell part of the story. In many ways, they were as different as night and day.
But they loved the game. They played on dirt, and for the most part they played in the daytime. They wore flannel uniforms and traveled by train.
Where have you gone, Musial? Where have you gone, Williams?
May I offer the reader two excellent articles? The first one is a classic, written by John Updike. It takes the reader to Fenway Park to see Williams’ last game. The second article, about Musial, is by Jan Finkel. This has been published as part of the SABR Baseball Biography Project.
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