When Jackie Robinson took the field in a Brooklyn Dodger uniform in 1947 to become the first African-American to play Major League baseball in the 20th Century, Stan Musial was the biggest National League star player. Named the league’s Most Valuable Player, Musial led the St. Louis Cardinals to winning the National League pennant and World Series Championship the previous year. A member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Musial died this past January 19, he was 93. There was strong verbal opposition to Robinson’s entry into the league, including that from Musial’s Cardinal teammates. But the quiet acceptance of the changing face of baseball he experienced the remaining 26 years of his playing career (1947 -1963) was an example of the high moral character exhibited by Stan “The Man” Musial his entire life.
Musial came to the big leagues in 1941 when organized baseball at both the Major and Minor League levels was all white. Being from southern states, many Major League ballplayers at the time had negative attitudes about African-Americans fueled by racial segregation. But Stan Musial had participated in sports with African-Americans in his hometown of Donora, Pennsylvania. Buddy Griffey, the grandfather of former Major League star Ken Griffey, Jr, was on Musial’s high school baseball team.
Before St. Louis’ first game against Robinson, some Cardinal players were talking about refusing to play. Musial heard what he described as “tough racial talk from some of his teammates. But he was a young player, 26, and had little influence on his older teammates to change their racial attitudes. However, he did not go along with their plan. The talk of a boycott ended when Cardinal owner Sam Bearden, with support from National League Commissioner Ford Frick, threatened the complaining players with suspensions. It could have been a bigger problem had the National League’s rising star, Musial, been a leader in the team’s uprising against Robinson.
Musial saw talented black players come into the National League such as Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, and others. Musial’s African-American teammates during his career, Brooks Lawrence, George Crowe, Curt Flood, Bill White, Bob Gibson, and others talked about him with great respect.
Integrating at a faster pace than the American League, the National League won 12 of the last 20 All-Star Games played by Musial.