Cheap Seats

Amateur Stan Musial spring training photo a glimpse of baseball's golden age

I found an interesting slice of life for sale on eBay while browsing around the last couple of days.

It's an amateur photo of Stan Musial taken either before or after a spring training game during his playing days. While the advertisement claims the black and white photo is from the 1940s, evidence suggests that it was taken in the spring of 1957 prior to what could be considered Stan the Man's last superstar-quality season.

Musial won his last batting title in '57 with a .351 average and was runner up in the National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting. It was his last season with more than 20 home runs (29) and also his last with more than 100 runs batted in (102).

Hints that the 3-by-3 photo is of a later vintage include a clear depiction of a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon in the background, a dead giveaway that the shot isn't from the 1940s. The uniform Stan the Man is wearing helps to chisel things down even more. It's the 1956 model noteworthy as the only Redbirds uniform since the 1920s not to feature the ubiquitous Birds on the bat.

The fact that there's a '57 Chevy in the background makes it pretty obvious that the photo wasn't taken in February or March of 1956. The 1957 model Chevrolets didn't come out until September of 1956. The most likely explanation: In those days teams often used the old uniforms from the previous season in spring training and broke out the new duds on opening day. So it's almost certainly a shot from spring training in 1957. The hotel buildings and the large palm tree to the left in the background place the shot in Florida.

Stan's readily posing for the photo, standing with a jacket slung over his right arm and a pair of sunglasses in his left hand. He's in his complete uniform except that he's wearing what appear to be sneakers instead of baseball spikes.

Today fans are lucky to snag an autograph from a player as he exits the gated parking lot at Roger Dean Stadium. Otherwise, if you want to catch them you need to stalk them at the team hotel or correctly guess which local eatery or watering hole they'll be attending that evening. In the St. Petersburg days, players walked out ballpark to the parking lot and there was a lot better chance for interaction between fans and the stars.

It's a neat picture because it's personal as opposed to one of the press photos that Cardinals fans have seen hundreds of times. It's also cool that the person that shot the photo was obviously standing 10-15 feet from Musial, able just to walk up to one of the greatest stars of the game like they're old pals and that he or she must have asked Stan to pose, which he seemed eager to do.