1958 - Stan Musial Home
Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinal
In the summer of 1958 I was thirteen years old and playing in my last year of little league baseball. I had been a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals for several years. I would keep score of every game while listening on the radio. Stan Musial was a god to me.
My dad had caught me crying one night after a St. Louis game in which the cardinals had blown a 9 run lead going into the 7th inning to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Roy Campanella had hit what Harry Carry had described as a pop fly which turned into a 3 run homer with the short left field of Ebbets field to win in the bottom of the ninth as I remember it. Dad tried to talk me down.
My dad was a cub's fan, but I had been influenced by my best friend Eugene Durbin, who was a rabid cardinal fan. I used to go over to his house for weekends and we would play whiffle ball in his back yard. We made up schedules for National League teams and played a shortened season. We were also on the same little league team where I played center field and he played left field.
My coach in my last year was Jim St. Cerny. On the first day of practice several of us were lined up to run to first base behind home plate as Jim swung the bat at home plate while hitting grounders to the infield. The only problem was that he was left handed and when he would finish swinging he would let go of the bat with his left hand and finish the swing with his right hand swinging the bat quite far into the path of the first base line. Because of this we all had to move pretty far away from home plate as we got ready to run to first base otherwise he would have hit us with the bat.
Jim turned around and saw that we were pretty far away and told us to move closer to home plate. I was the next runner to run to first base and as I lined up closer and got ready to run to first base the boy behind me said “Hey – He's going to hit you with the bat.” I said “I know – but what can I do? He said to move in closer.” As Jim got ready to swing the bat I knew I was going to get hit with the bat somewhere around the face. As Jim threw the ball into the air and hit the ball I began to run to first base.
When I woke up I was lying on the ground looking up through what I thought was water running over my eyes but I soon figured out it was blood running out of the cut in my forehead caused by the collision between Jim's bat and my head. Jim and everybody else was standing over me looking down at me. Jim was quite understandably upset. He called an ambulance and they took me to the hospital for stitches and examination. I was told I had a concussion.
In my baseball career I had played every position except first base, catcher, and pitcher. One night while I was playing third base a sharp grounder was hit to me which I knocked down and when I went to pick it up I dropped it. I knew I was going to have to pick it up fast and put some steam on the throw to first to get the runner out. I picked it back up and threw it as hard as I could to first base. Thankfully the runner was the slowest runner on the other team and he was out by a step and I heard the spectators let out an “woooh.”
Soon after that Jim put me on the mound and asked me to try pitching. After a week or so of practice he let me pitch some relief until one night the umpire started calling everything I threw up there a ball. I started slowing down the speed trying to just get it over and have him call a strike. Meanwhile the other team's batters had decided not to swing as all they had to do was show up and they would get to first base. After three walks I finally lost it and just started lobbing the ball up there with the arc and speed of an underhanded slow pitch softball pitch until Jim had seen enough and pulled me. That was my last attempt at pitching but I guess I can claim to have invented the ephesus pitch.
As a hitter I had a very good eye and was the lead off hitter and would crowd the plate and got a lot of walks. Sometime during the season I saw Stan Musial's swing and I tried to emulate it by bringing my forward (left) foot back near to my right foot and then when I swung I would stride forward. It didn't work out that well but I was such a big fan of Stan that I couldn't go back to the old swing which gave me more contact with the ball.
At the end of the season I was chosen to the all star Team and we went to Peoria to play their all-star team. I wasn't starting and sat on the bench until the late innings when I was put in to pinch hit. This pitcher threw bullets and nobody had gotten to second base yet. I got the bunt sign and squared to bunt. The ball hit my bat with such force that the ball went over the pitcher's head short of the second baseman and I got to first without a throw. Before the first pitch to the next batter I got the steal signal and stole second.
Now I was getting some confidence and wanted to steal third. I got a huge lead off of second hoping to encourage the coach to give me the steal signal, but nothing. Then I thought of stealing it on my own. I wanted to go so bad, but I just couldn't overrule authority. (It would take the JFK Assassination to rid me of that fault.) Anyway I was clearly irritating the pitcher and catcher as they called several pick off attempts to try to stop my long lead offs. If I could have gotten to third base I could have really shook him up and maybe even stole home. But I didn't have the balls to attempt to steal third. I regret it to this day. No one else got to second base and we lost the game.
After the season Jim escorted our team to St. Louis to see a Cardinal baseball game. As we all got seated before the game Jim asked me to go get a hot dog. I couldn't understand what that was about, but I went and did it. It took about 20 minutes or so and when I got back everything appeared as when I had left. But as soon as I sat down the boy next to me asked who I had my picture taken with. I asked him what he meant and he said that the whole team had gone down and had their picture taken with the team.
I was really upset and started crying right away. Jim must have been watching because he told me to come with him. On the way down to the field while I was wiping away the tears he told me someone wanted to meet me. Now I was really confused, but as we arrived at the Cardinal dugout I figured I was going to get to meet someone from the cardinal team.
I figured it would be someone who wasn't a starter as the game was getting ready to start. You can imagine my surprise when Stan Musial stepped out of the dugout and said "Hi Mike!" and shook my hand. After I got my breath back I said "Hi!" He said he couldn't stay to have his picture taken with me because he had to go out into the field, but that Red Schoendist would be out in a minute. So I tried to hide my disappointment that Stan was leaving and said "OK,Thanks." Stan said bye and went out onto the field and Red came out and the next day in the paper there were three pictures in the paper; two with all the other players on our team with some Cardinal players and one with me and Red. I was on cloud nine for months.
I know it's probably hard to believe but I didn't figure out that it was a set up for some 48 years. While in prison around 2004 I figured out that my Dad must have told Jim how I idolized Stan Musial and Jim might have been trying to make up for giving me the concussion, which he did.
Everyone over the age of 50 should do some time in prison. Besides giving you an idea of what it's like before you send someone in there and giving you an appreciation for freedom and life, it gives you time to think about your life and the mistakes you made and who you owe thanks to. Anyone over the age of forty who says they have no regrets has never done a serious examination of their life.