Then and Now

Stashu was born in Donora Pennsylvania in 1920. He was the 5th child and first boy born to his parents. His father was a Polish immigrant, and his mother was a first-generation American. His father struggled to keep a job largely because of his alcohol use and anger management issues. His mother did domestic work for the managers of the local steel mills.

Stashu and his father had a difficult relationship so he was more impacted by his mother. Growing up, he developed a love of baseball from his mother. He would often pitch to her even though they could not afford a baseball or glove. They made baseballs out of old shoes, clothing, and whatever they could wrap into a ball.

Donora at the time was a mix of ethnic groups largely attracted to work in the steel mills. What brought them together was baseball. Stashu and his friends formed a team. Their bats were broomsticks and fence posts. They traded gloves with the other team, but many of the positions on the field were without gloves.

Early on, Stashu was recognized as having a rare talent as a pitcher. He was also the best hitter on the team and played in the outfield or first base when he wasn’t pitching. But his father never approved of his devotion to the game.

All of Stashu’s sisters were forced to go to work and never finished high school. Stashu’s father felt that he should do the same. It was his status as a star basketball player and pitcher in baseball that kept him in school.

At age 17, he was signed to a minor league contract making $50/month. He began his baseball career in Williamson, WV playing in the Class-D minor leagues. It was the first time that he experienced baseball with real equipment.

Returning home after the first summer of the minor leagues, he became secretly married to a local girl. He was 18 and she was 19. As a minor league pitcher, Stashu lived up to his promise, but it soon became apparent that he was an even better hitter. Three years after playing in the minor leagues, he was called up to play in the major leagues.

He played a total of 20 years in the major leagues. Over that career span, he had a lifetime batting average of .331, he had 3,630 hits, 475 home runs, and 1,951 RBIs. He played for the same team throughout his entire career.

He made the All-Star team 24 times (there were 2 All-Star games from 1959-1962). He won 7 batting titles and 3 MVP awards. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with one of the highest percentages of votes in its history.

But for all of his outstanding records as a baseball player, he was an even better person. He was an advocate for Jackie Robinson’s right to play baseball. He never forgot his hometown and continued to support local events throughout his life. In 2011, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Honor, the highest civilian award in the U.S.

That was then. Compare that to athletes today. How many of them would have succeeded growing up as Stashu (aka Stan Musial) did? How many of them would stay with the same team their entire career? How many of them maintain an allegiance to those who supported them growing up? And how many of them would remain married to the love of their life for close to 72 years?

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“Stan Musial was a better player than me because he was a better person than me.” – Mickey Mantle

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