ST. LOUIS — During his 16 years as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa cherished his time with Stan Musial.
La Russa and others in the Cardinals organization were deeply saddened Saturday night when they learned of the death of the franchise icon and Hall of Famer at age 92.
"I've got tremendous sadness, but in a way relief," La Russa said Sunday at the annual Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up. "I think anybody that knows him knows (his) quality of life was not good.
"I remember how it was with Jack (Buck). We got so selfish, a lot of us. We knew he was suffering, but we didn't want to lose him."
La Russa said Musial treated everyone with the same respect.
"Anybody that touched Stan was in (the same) position because he was that way with everybody," La Russa said. "He was the best that you can be as a person --and was a great player."
Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said arrangements for the funeral and a possible memorial service are incomplete and that the team would be in communication with Musial's family.
DeWitt also said the Cardinals will honor Musial during the season, perhaps with black armbands and Musial's No. 6 on uniforms.
"We're not the same Cardinals without Stan. That's for sure," DeWitt said. "The Cardinals have a tremendous following, in large part, because of Stan and the other great players that have been through here."
Musial, widely regarded as the Cardinals' all-time best player, finished a 22-year career with a .331 average, 725 doubles, 177 triples, 475 home runs and 1,951 RBIs in 3,026 games. He had 3,630 hits --1,815 at home, 1,815 on the road.
La Russa said he saw Musial only a couple of times during the season, not as frequently as in the past when he still was working for the Cardinals.
Recalling his many conversations with Musial, La Russa said many of them were not related to baseball.
"Most of it was just personal, just the way he treated you when he was around you," he said. "You could see the respect, the courtesy, the caring, the sense of humor. That's the way he was with everybody. You say, 'This is Stan Musial doing this.' There wasn't anything about I or me there.
"I should be more like that."
Among La Russa's favorite stories about Musial involves author John Grisham, who wrote his novel, "A Painted House" in 2001.
In the book, the main character, Luke Chandler, and his family would listen to Harry Caray broadcast Cardinals games on KMOX during September 1952, the era of Musial and Red Schoendienst, another Hall of Famer who hails from Germantown.
"I was recruiting John Grisham for the ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) calendar," La Russa recalled. "I read, 'A Painted House,' so I'm in spring training that year and I had somebody track him down. We got him on the phone and I said, 'John, why don't you visit here because everybody you talk about in the book is here? All the older Cardinals are here, the Hall of Famers.'
"He said, 'Let me think about it.' He called back and said, 'I can't make it for spring training, but I'll be there during the season."
La Russa made a quick suggestion to Grisham.
"I said, 'How about Opening Day, because they're all there?'" La Russa said. "So he brings his father, big John, and his brothers. They're sitting in my office and here comes Stan. They were in there a half-hour, 45 minutes.
"I talked to (Grisham) maybe a couple of months ago, and it was ironic that he would say it. He said, as they left the ballpark, his dad said, 'My life is complete. I just met Stan Musial.'"
La Russa never was one to make comparison when it came to players. Often, he would resort to his, "Tied for first" line.
"I never liked this, 'Who's the greatest?' he said. "My favorite is, 'Are you in the converstation?' (Willie) Mays, (Hank) Aaron, Musial, (Joe) DiMaggio. It doesn't make any difference who's the greatest. Are you in the conversation? That's my opinion.
"But I will state that the greatest room of all time is Schoendienst and Musial. To find two better players or two better people, there's isn't a 'Tied for first' on that one. We've got the greatest room of all time with those two men. ... They were twins."
DeWitt Jr. was raised in St. Louis and has known Musial since he was a child. DeWitt's father, Bill DeWitt Sr. owned the St. Louis Browns, which shared Sportsman's Park with the Cardinals, and the younger DeWitt spent much time there.
"He epitomized everything that's great about Cardinals baseball --in every way," DeWitt said. "His performance on the field, his incredible integrity, his citizenship, what he's meant to the community, his commitment to St. Louis and the area, an engaging personality, accessible ... You could go on and on and talk about the adjectives, and they're all true."
DeWitt said he was saddened but not surprised about Musial's death.
"I knew it wouldn't be long, just from being in touch with his family," DeWitt said. "I knew he was in declining health. Initial sadness, and then you think about an opportunity to celebrate what he's done for all of us in St. Louis and baseball in general."
DeWitt said Musial never was rude and always was willing to spend time with people, particularly admiring children.
"He was great to kids," DeWitt said. "A kid couldn't come up to him that he wouldn't give them an autograph --even unsolicited. He was just great that way. That term 'accessible' says it all.
"He would walk into the middle of this crowd today ... A lot of stars would avoid it, and understandably so because there's so much demand on their time. But not Stan. He embraced it. He was unique in that sense.
"You see players today, top players, even, that are somewhat stingy with autographs, trying to maintain (their) value, for whatever reason. Stan could care less about the value of his autograph. Whoever wanted it, he would give it because he wanted to make them happy. It wasn't that he was doing it for himself. He was doing it for other people."
Many other people reacted to the passing of Musial, who was not only a St. Louis icon, but a man known to the nation.
*White House spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm, speaking on behalf of President Barack Obama: "The president was saddened to learn of the passing of baseball legend Stan Musial. In 2010, the president was honored to award Stan 'The Man' Musial the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom for his unrivaled passion for the sport and the example he set for all young Americans. The president's thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones."
*Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs: "For me, one of the best parts of any baseball season was Opening Day when you got to shake his hand, and knowing you were going to be a part of an organization and a team that was his organization. We are his team. He set an example for not only baseball players, but anybody, to live by. And not because he was a good baseball player. He was so much more than that. ... He didn't mind shaking your hand. He didn't mind signing your baseball. That goes a long way with normal people."
* Legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who called games when Musial was playing: "How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away."
*Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig: "I think his nickname, 'The Man,' kind of says it all. It stands for how he played on the field and the person he was off the field. That's one of the first guys you learn about when you put this uniform on."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.