In memory of Stan & Earl

Earlier this month, the sportswriters who get to vote on who goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame decided to reject all the candidates on the ballot.

Can’t say it was a huge surprise, given the number of big-name players like Bonds. Clemens and McGuire whose career records are tainted by their alleged associations with forbidden drugs.

I’ll leave that dilemma to future experts to solve, along with the perennial question about the banning of Pete Rose from the Baseball Valhalla.

Makes me long for the golden days of the National Pastime when fellas like Stan “The Man” Musial and Earl Weaver – both of whom we had the misfortune to lose this past Saturday – made their presence known.

No problem putting them in the Hall, right?

Although the way Earl behaved much of the time – toward umpires and players on his own team — you could justifiably wonder what kind of tobacco was he chewing? (For the record, it was Raleighs.)

Musial – like Willie Mays – was quoted as saying he’d enjoyed playing the game for the “fun” of it but — like Mays – he was practical enough to be grateful for the money he received for excelling at what he loved to do.

Weaver, whose lexicon for offensive strategy didn’t include sacrifice, steal or bunt, was credited for being the “Moneyball” manager of his day. The three-run homer suited him fine, thank you very much. Platooning – as it was for Stengel – was also in his arsenal.

Musial – whose immigrant Polish dad worked in a Pennsylvania factory – and Weaver who spent his entire playing days toiling in the minors – chose baseball as much as the sport chose them.

It was as if they’d realized their calling toward some higher purpose: something that could be achieved through hard work, studiousness and working with teammates (Weaver had his own interpretation of that, of course) toward a common goal.

Mays, maybe, was the real “Natural” (forget Robert Redford and Wonderboy for a minute), but he made himself a student of the game to the extent he’d position his fellow outfielders because he recognized the tendencies of opposing hitters.

Was Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds, as much of a team player? I don’t know.

Can any sport be “pure”? I doubt it. In baseball’s early days, pitchers applied foreign substances to the ball and threw at hitters to gain an advantage, until Carl Mays fatally beaned Ray Chapman in 1920.

But every game has rules and you’ve got to play by those rules if you want to be taken seriously. People like Musial, Weaver and Mays found ways to win and achieve great things – for themselves and their team – in the context of how life is governed within the chalked lines of the diamond.

Maybe that’s why they have two statues of Musial at the ballpark in St. Louis.

I figure if they ever put up a likeness of Weaver, Earl would appear and kick dirt on it – just out of habit.

– Ron Leir

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