Monday, January 21, 2013

Killebrew, Musial were alike on and off the field

Twins fans know the kind of mourning that Cardinals are going through. Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinals player to ever live, passed away this weekend at the age of 92. Less than two years ago the Twins were mourning the loss of their own great player, Harmon Killebrew. These two players are two of the best players in the history of the game and their character off the field shown just as bright as these stars did on it.

Killebrew and Musial had their career path's cross for a few seasons near the end of Musial's career and the beginning of Killebrew's playing days. They would be on opposite sides of the field in three different All-Star Games but they never met in any other contests since there was no interleague play. Musial's NL squads would come out on top in all of those games but there were no hard feelings as a friendship was starting to form.

Both men loved to be involved in the community and this was evident in their off the field activities. One of their most publicized events together was a trip to Vietnam in 1966 to help boost the morale of the troops. Musial and Killebrew would join other stars like Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, and Brooks Robinson on a trip overseas. The faced some dangers on the trip with their choppers being shot at and their barracks being bombed but they warmed the spirits of America's men in uniform.

"I got to know Stan very, very well (on that tour)," Killebrew said. "I got to know the kind of person he was, and it really magnified my feels about Stan Musial."

Killebrew had grown up in a baseball culture where Musial was one of the best players in the world. In an interview with a St. Louis radio station on the day Musial was receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Killebrew offered a variety of thoughts on Stan "The Man."

"I always admired Stan from afar as a youngster," noted Killebrew. "I've known him now for over 40-some years and we've been good friends. I've always marveled at the records Stan Musial put up. I always felt he did not get the credit he deserved... He has to rank, in my book, as one of the greatest players who every lived."

Besides their trip overseas, there seemed to be a Midwest connection between these two players. The greatness of their careers is overlooked outside of their baseball market because of where they spent all of their playing days (Killebrew mentions a bit of this in the interview linked above). New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago would never be their homes and this might have been better for these gentle giants. Their quiet personalities might have never held up in a bigger market.

To generations of Twins fans, Killebrew was the first star of a franchise when it moved to the frozen tundra of Minnesota. His statue greats fans as they arrive at games and the stories of his life will never die. There would be other greats to bring championships to his town like Kirby and Hrbek but he was still the living legend. His name will always be remembered and his gentle nature was one of his most enduring legacies.

To generations of Cardinals fans, Musial will serve much of the same role. Fans are greeted by his statue when they arrive at the gate and his stories will continue to be told. Albert and Ozzie would bring titles to St. Louis but he was still "The Man" to that city. He will never be forgotten for what he meant to the game of baseball.

Rest in Peace, Stan "The Man."

I hope Killer was there to greet you at that big baseball field in the sky.

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