A few years ago, baseball lost one of its all-time greats, when Stan Musial died at the age of 92. Stan the Man played for the St. Louis Cardinals for his entire Hall of Fame career (1941-1963), was a 24-time All-Star, 3-time MVP and 3-time world champion. In 2005, I had the honor of interviewing Stan for my first book. I was also coaching Little League at the time, so I made sure to ask him a few questions on hitting.
What strikes me now about Stan’s words on baseball is how much his philosophies apply to business and life, too. I highlighted my favorite parts:
Brandon Steiner: What was your approach to hitting?
Stan Musial: As a hitter, I didn’t listen to too many people. I had a coach named Buzzy Wears (longtime MLB player/coach) who said not to listen to too many people because that could confuse you.
BS: What were your goals each season?
SM: I was aiming for 200 hits a season – if you get that, your average is going to be pretty good. I never thought about 3,000 hits, since that’s 200 hits for 15 years. I stopped thinking about it after ten years. We had a sportswriter in St. Louis who traveled with us – Bob Broeg – and he alerted me to the fact that if I played longer, I could reach 3,000 hits. He kept me abreast of that.
BS: What are the keys to being a great hitter?
SM: I talked this over with Ted Williams once. The most important thing with hitting is not the stance or the grip; it’s learning the strike zone. That’s the most important thing. If you want to hit for a fairly good average, you have to hit strikes. If you watch enough baseball on television, you’ll see that when a guy makes an out, he’s usually swinging at a bad pitch.
BS: Who was your inspiration growing up?
SM: Growing up in Pittsburgh, my idol was Paul Waner (Hall of Famer who played for the Pirates from 1926-1940). He was known as Big Poison. He hit for a high average every year, he got 3,000 hits. I watched him. He took a nice level swing and just met the ball; he taught me something by not over-swinging and not trying to hit the home run. I learned how to hit the ball to left field, right field, and center field.
BS: How did you do that?
SM: We had a field in Pittsburgh that was short in right field and we played with only one ball. If you hit the ball over the right fielder’s head, it took five minutes to go get the ball. Whereas in left field, there was a hillside, and if I hit the ball to the opposite field, it stayed in play. That’s a great asset in hitting – hitting to the opposite field, using the whole field.
BS: Do you recall your contract negotiations with management?
SM: In our day, we didn’t have agents. We negotiated our own contracts. We were underpaid; today’s players are overpaid. It was a struggle trying to get a raise from most owners. But I was always having good years and getting my raises along with that. After about ten or twelve years, I finally got up to making $100,000 per year. (Average MLB salary now: $3.2 million).
BS: How did you get that $100,000? What did you say to the owner?
SM: Here’s what happened. I agreed to a $90,000 a year contract and I found out that Ralph Kiner was making $90,000 from the Pirates. I told my owner that I would take $91,000 because I should be the highest-paid player in the National League. Mr. Busch, the owner, called me back in with Bing Devine, our general manager. He said: “We decided to make you the first $100,000 player in the National League.” That’s how I got it.
BS: Is success a habit?
SM: In baseball, and in any sport, consistency is the most important thing. You have to be consistent every day, every week, and every month. You have to be lucky, and not have any serious injuries. A couple of injuries can keep you from setting a record during a season. You need the good fortune of not being injured.
(NOTE: Stan Musial ended his career with 1,815 hits at home, and 1815 on the road. Talk about consistency!)
BS: How did you know that baseball was the sport for you growing up?
SM: I could always hit the ball well. I dreamed of being a big league player since high school. And it’s the greatest feeling – to reach the top of our profession. I just enjoyed putting the uniform on every day and playing baseball and having fun. It helped that I was hitting .340 or .350 a lot; that’s a good feeling.
BS: What would you do on days you went 0 for 5? What would go on in your head?
SM: If I didn’t hit the ball well for 3-4 days, I wouldn’t let my slump go for two weeks. I would take care of it. The longest I ever went without a hit was four games.
Stan will be missed. They truly don’t make ballplayers like him anymore.