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Stan Musial forever the standard for Cardinals fans

Fans often leave tributes at the burial site of former Cardinals great Stan Musial.

SHIRA SPRINGER/GLOBE STAFF

Fans often leave tributes at the burial site of former Cardinals great Stan Musial.

CREVE COEUR, Mo. — Inside a communal mausoleum roughly 20 miles west of Busch Stadium, Cardinals fans still pay their respects to Stan Musial. The greatest Cardinals player ever, who died Jan. 19, is entombed beside his wife of more than 70 years, Lillian, in Bellerive Gardens. Marked by a beige marble slab in the right, rear corner of a long, wide hall filled with crypts for other families and individuals, the Musial plot doesn’t stand out except for a few tributes left behind.

On Monday afternoon, a small Cardinals pennant peeked out from a bouquet of flowers. And beside a potted orchid there was a note from the Therber family. It read: “You’re the family’s hero.” The message seemed to speak for a lot of Cardinals fans who attended Game 5 of the World Series.

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“This is Stan country,” said C.P. Simmons of Edwardsville, Ill., as he sat beside the statue of Musial prominently positioned in front of Gate 3 at Busch Stadium. “Players have come and gone — Ozzie [Smith], [Albert] Pujols. But when you think Cardinals baseball, you think of Stan.”

Added Carter “Cardinal Cowboy” Rethwisch, who arrived at the game wearing a white baseball uniform with red cowboy hat and boots and a replica World Series trophy: “Stan Musial is the reason baseball is what it is in St. Louis. With what he did and helped create and develop in St. Louis, now baseball is a staple of the whole community.”

While many St. Louis supporters came to the World Series wearing jerseys of current players, Musial’s No. 6 was far and away the favorite throwback top. And the Musial statue remains a popular meeting place and photo op, drawing crowds hours before first pitch.

The statue captures Musial in his batting stance and the plaque on its base salutes the Hall of Famer for being “the heart and soul of the St. Louis Cardinals” for more than 70 years and a “role model and true civic treasure.” It notes that he was “never ejected from a game” and “lived with a dignity and charm that endeared him to countless fans across several generations.”

Two hours before Game 5, Chad Graue posed his 9-year-old son Griffin in front of the statue for a picture. When asked if he knew who Musial was, Griffin shrugged his shoulders and said, “No.” But Chad took the picture because he someday will tell Griffin all about what Musial accomplished during his 22-year career with the Cardinals, one that spanned from his major league debut at age 20 in September 1941 through his retirement in September 1963. Musial missed the 1945 season because of military service, a fact that endeared him to Cardinals fans even more.

During his legendary career, Musial won three championships (1942, 1944, 1946) with the Cardinals, earned National League MVP honors three times, was the NL’s batting champion seven times, and posted a .331 career batting average with 475 home runs. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.

“Griffin is getting to the point where he’s old enough to start learning about Stan and Cardinals history,” said Graue, of Chatham, Ill. “He knows a lot about the current Cardinals, but it will be fun to grow up with him and see him learn more about the team. When I think of Stan Musial, I think about how he continued to be the face of the Cardinals long after his playing days.”

Some Cardinals fans attending Game 5 had personal memories of meeting Musial or watching him play. Off the field, he was known for his harmonica playing and his love of kids. And for those who could recall a personal encounter, Musial left as big an impression away from the ballpark as he did inside it.

John Davis remembered buying his first baseball glove at Central Hardware in St. Louis on a day when Musial was at the store signing autographs. At the time, Davis was a towheaded 5-year-old.

“There was a big line of kids,” said Davis. “I got up to the desk [where Musial was seated] with my glove and a baseball. Musial looks at me and sees I’m a towhead and he says, ‘Hi, Whitey, how ya doing?’ And I said, ‘Fine, Mr. Musial. Would you please sign my ball, my glove?’ He was really cordial. That’s my great memory of Stan Musial. He represented class. And in today’s athletic world, kids really need heroes. Musial represented to me what an athlete should be.”

Wearing a Musial replica jersey, Kevin Tenge of Florissant added: “Stan’s been my idol as long as I’ve been a kid. I grew up wanting to emulate Stan. I was excited to watch him play. It was the early ’60s, back in the old Sportsman’s Park, and I was about 10 years old. He was an older player, but he still knew how to swing the bat. My parents met him. He said hi to everybody and never met a stranger.”

And Cardinals fans sounded determined to keep their Musial memories alive, many hoping that the team might win a 12th World Series ring in his memory.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.
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