A Tale of Two Stars: Musial and Griffey

Something went wrong with the last post, but here is the correct blog.

Because so many readers of my blogs are from Donora, Pennsylvania, I thought today’s content would be exclusively on two of the most stellar athletes to come from that town.

When I wrote Fathers, Sons, and Baseball as well as the book Baseball Dads, I wanted to be sure to include stories about Stan the Man Musial and my Donora High classmate Ken Griffey Sr. (and, yes, I included some material on Junior). In fact, I ALWAYS write about my hometown in magazine articles and books every chance I get–even in the book America’s Football Factory (where I discussed men such as Deacon Dan Towler).

Here are some samples. First, on Musial from Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial. For now, forget (if you can) all of his remarkable stats and accomplishments. This is a man who remains among the top 10 or so players of all-time. However, as I interviewed tons of people who knew Musial, he was always remembered for his gentle nature, his warmth, his deep and sincere concern for his fans, his genial, fun-loving ways, and good humor. In short, he was a helluva’ man on and off the field, unlike too many surly stars of recent years such as the belligerent Barry Bonds.

George F. Will visited Donora from time to time as his grandfather was a Lutheran minister in town for some time toward the end of his life.  Will called Musial “an extraordinarily affable man.  It was like he was Everyman, except, and this is what you have to keep in mind, no one gets to be that good in athletics by being a normal man.  That is, beneath that preternatural affability, and beneath that genuine affection for the fans, there was a . . . flame burning.”

Most people agree with former Cardinal Marty Marion who stated, “Stan was just a good ol’ country boy . . . No, if you didn’t like Stan, you didn’t like anybody.”

Once, when asked why he was so congenial, why a smile perpetually adorned his face, Musial replied, “Well, if you were me, wouldn’t you be smiling?” He truly had a lot of smile about.

Chuck Tanner related the story of the aftermath of his first big league hit.  Upon reaching first base, Tanner heard the friendly Musial say, “Nice hitting.  You know, I live near you.”  Tanner was astonished, “Can you imagine that?  He said he lives near me, not that I live near him.”

Dodgers’ pitcher Carl Erskine said, “I knew him as an opponent and respected him a great deal, but I knew him off the field and learned that he was a real gentleman and a real class act.  So what I’d heard about him was true, that he was a first-class person.”

Finally, from Ron Necciai, another Mon Valley native who played pro ball (once striking out 27 men in a minor league contest): “I pitched against the Cardinals. Stan sent their clubhouse man over to the Pirate clubhouse to get me and bring me over there to talk to him.  He knew I was from Gallatin.  I sat there for at least 20 minutes.  He was very encouraging. He was very complimentary.  Here I was, Mister Absolutely Nobody in the National League and he’s the greatest name in the National League and he sends for me.  He didn’t have to do that.”

Switching to Griffey Sr., here are some excerpts from the Fathers, Sons, and Baseball book mentioned earlier. Donora’s Ulice Payne, who played on Marquette’s 1977 NCAA basketball championship team and who was the president of the Milwaukee Brewers, met with Musial and said, “He was very proud of the fact that Ken Griffey, Sr. had become a major league player.  He would see Senior, who was coaching in the Reds’ organization then, from time to time.  To have guys from Donora do well in major league baseball was important to him.”

And Griffey, of course, did extremely well in the majors (.296 lifetime batting average), but, again, forget the stats and feats. There’s much more to Senior. Among other things, he imparted words of wisdom to family and fellow big leaguers. Griffey, Jr. told me, “My father always said to us [children], ‘Don’t be anybody else.  Just be yourself.’”  Because of that, he said, he never even really had a baseball hero, but his dad was his favorite. Slugger Ellis Burks revealed that when Senior was his batting instructor, he taught him more than any other coach ever.

Here’s a great Griffey story that dates back to 1989.  It’s a story that portrays their love that was displayed even while hiding under the guise of some macho teasing.  Back then, Senior was still with the Reds and his son was a rookie with Seattle.  Someone asked Senior if he thought someday the two might play together on the same team.  With a broad, bright smile, he replied, “No way!  He’d drive me nuts.” Of course, this was one time Senior’s predictive skills were way off as the two would go on to make history as father-son teammates!

I’ve mentioned this before, but after I wrote the book which is out now on Amazon entitled 1960: When the Pittsburgh Pirates Had Them All the Way, I was able to get Vernon Law to write some words of endorsement for the back cover, but I wanted at least one more big name to help out. Not at all surprisingly, Kenny came through.

Finally from the book Baseball Dads, something Donora people already knew about Kenny. Alex Grammas coached under Sparky Anderson at Cincinnati during the Big Red Machine Days. He summed up Senior by saying, “He could run like a deer. He was as fast as you get. He’s a good guy, a real good person.”

Final trivia note: the combined total of home runs hit by Donora’s Big Three of The Man, The Kid, and Senior stands at 1,257 and collectively they banged out 8,554 hits. I don’t think any other small town can boast of such lofty totals!

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