By Jim Salter/The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Baseball great Stan Musial already has a statue outside of Busch Stadium and a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y. On Tuesday, the former St. Louis Cardinal received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the presidential Medal of Freedom.
Musial was among 15 recipients honored during a ceremony at the White House. President Barack Obama called the Hall-of-Famer “a gentleman you would want your kids to emulate.”
Musial, 90, wore his familiar Cardinals-red sports coat during the ceremony shown on St. Louis television and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website. He beamed as the president placed the medal around his neck.
Missouri politicians said the honor was appropriate for the baseball immortal whose nickname, “The Man,” was as appropriate for his philanthropy and kindness as for his on-the-field success.
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, a St. Louis Democrat, recalled watching Musial from the stands of Sportsman’s Park as a boy, then getting to know him as an adult. He said Musial showed great courage in 1947 by welcoming Jackie Robinson, baseball’s first black player, into the National League.
“Stan Musial is a national treasure,” Clay said. “His remarkable life represents the very best of America.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Musial was not only the greatest Cardinal ever “but a great philanthropist who’s used his notoriety to help others in need.”
Gov. Jay Nixon said the medal was “appropriate for a man who is both a baseball immortal and an extraordinary American and gentleman.”
Musial, a native of Donora, Pa., was signed by the Cardinals as a pitcher but converted to the outfield after a shoulder injury in the minor leagues. It worked out well.
He was a 24-time All-Star who retired after the 1963 season with a .331 batting average and 475 home runs. Of his 3,630 career hits, exactly half came at home and half on the road.
He earned the nickname “The Man” in 1946, when Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bob Broeg heard fans at Ebbets Field welcome Musial to the plate by saying, “Here comes the man.”
Musial was the general manager of the 1967 Cardinals team that won the World Series over the Boston Red Sox.
He has remained a beloved figure in St. Louis. In fact, it was a grassroots “Stand for Stan” campaign that helped convince the White House to honor Musial with the Medal of Freedom. The Cardinals promoted the idea through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and politicians quickly joined in letter-writing campaigns.
Musial is held in such high regard by the team and its players that current Cardinals star Albert Pujols agreed to extend to Wednesday his deadline to sign a contract extension or test free agency after the 2011 season. The previous deadline was Tuesday, but Pujols and the Cardinals didn’t want to distract from Musial’s honor.
The Medal of Freedom is given to those who have made important contributions to U.S. national security, world peace, culture or other significant public or private endeavors. Other recipients on Tuesday included former President George H.W. Bush, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, basketball great Bill Russell and businessman Warren Buffett.