The passing of the legendary Stan Musial has left Cardinals fans with a question many of us could never imagine pondering before Saturday:
Who is the greatest living Cardinal?
For all of my life -- and all of my parents' lives -- the answer was simple. Nearly unanimously, the answer from anyone you asked no matter if they were young or old, male or female was going to be Stan the Man.
It's a fair conclusion. After all, Musial not only owns almost all of the major hitting records for the Cardinals -- half a century after he retired, Stan still owns plenty of National League and Major League Baseball records, too. And the it's hard to deny that he was the nicest, most accessible guy. He'd be the person anybody would want to represent them on a world stage.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
My nomination for the person to take Stan's mantle is the last person to wear number six for the Cardinals not named Musial, his longtime roommate on the road, Red Schoendienst.
In 1945, while Stan was off serving in World War II, the redhead was assigned number six. Back then I guess they were less sentimental about numbers and players often took a different number almost every year. In eight years with the Cardinals, star pitcher Mort Cooper wore five different numbers. In 13 years with the Redbirds, Pepper Martin also wore fiver different numbers. So, believe it or not, the Cardinals took the number of their young star who had already been named NL MVP with two All-Star berths, and they gave it to someone else.
Stan was a little more attached to the number than the Cardinals apparently were. When he arrived back with the club in 1946, he pulled rank on the second year player Schoendienst and reclaimed number six.
Anyway, Red is a Hall of Famer and was a great player with the Cardinals, earning nine all-star game appearances and three top 10 finishes in the MVP award balloting. But he was also manager of the Cardinals for two World Series and he has been a coach with the club in various capacities for half a century. There is simply no one alive who has worn the Birds on the Bat so long. And the reason he's worn his uniform so long is because he's valued as an instructor and mentor to developing players. He's the dean on teaching the "Cardinals Way."
Number two on the list of greatest living Cardinals is probably Bob Gibson based on talent. But it's hard to imagine Gibson, who doesn't particularly care for a lot of fuss to be made over him, as ambassador of the team.
Lou Brock has more of an outgoing personality and the resume to earn consideration in the Greatest Living Cardinal conversation. But he's got that Cubs taint going against him. Gibby was a Cardinal by birth, Brock by adoption. So, at least in my book, gibson gets the edge.
If the Cardinals are looking for an ambassador. Someone to be the star of opening day who the fans will cheer wildly for, I think that guy will have to be Ozzie Smith.
The Wizard has started to come out of the woodwork with the exit of Tony La Russa. And the timing couldn't be better because there is going to be a tremendous void of personality at team functions without Stan the Man with his harmonica and bubbling personality.