A pleasant good morning to you from Washington D.C.
As you might imagine, it's all about Stan Musial today.
As we get ready for the Medal of Freedom ceremony, here are some warm-up pitches about Musial, his past connections to the White House, his friendships, and some sports numerology.
Musial has had a lengthy history of being involved with politics and high-level politicians. I thought it would be fun to take a look at that aspect of The Man's life, given his appearance in the East Room of the White House today to receive the Medal of Freedom...
* The Man and JFK: Musial first met the future president John Fitzgerald Kennedy in September 1959. Kennedy encountered Musial at a downtown Milwaukee hotel while campaigning in his successful quest to win the Democratic party nomination for President.
"I was standing in front of the hotel, waiting for the bus for the game," Musial once told The Sporting News. "And a man came up to me and said, 'You are Stan Musial and I'm glad to meet you. I'm Jack Kennedy.' Of course, I knew him."
"And then he said, 'You're too old to play ball and I'm too young to be president, but maybe we'll fool 'em.' And I reminded the President of that remark later when I went over to visit him at the White House, and he said he thought both us of us probably were doing a good job."
* The 1962 All-Star Game was played in Washington D.C. with President Kennedy in attendance. Musial, 41, was playing in his 22nd All-Star Game. He pinch-hit in the sixth inning and lined a single to right. Before the game, Kennedy had called Musial over to the box-seat railing to say hello and to (once again) brag about Musial's effective campaigning style in 1960. Kennedy gave Musial, wife Lillian and daughter Janet a VIP tour of the White House the next day. JFK gave Musial a PT 109 tie pin and an autographed photo. They talked baseball, with JFK asking Musial if he had a chance to break Ty Cobb's MLB record for most hits in a career. Informed that Kennedy had applauded his single the day before, Musial smiled and said, "The President is my buddy."
* I've relayed this story before, so please pardon my redundancy. But in case you missed it, acclaimed author James Michener once described a Musial visit to Nebraska on a campaign stop for JFK in '60. "In the shadows we saw several hundred silent ranchers awaiting us," Michener wrote. Michener described how a Republican-leaning crowd had given a cool reception to other celebrity campaigners. But then Musial's name was announced to the audience. According to Michener, "A low rumble arose from the crowd, and men pressed forward, dragging their boys and girls with them' to get close to an authentic American folk hero."
* Musial had an impressive '62 season, batted .330 with a .417 on-base percentage and a .508 slugging percentage at 41. The Man's age-defying production was noted by his pal in the White House. JFK sent Musial a telegram and quipped, "You made all of us believe that life really begins at 40." The friends regularly stayed in touch until Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. Musial was shaken by Kennedy's death. The Man hasn't had many bad days, but about 10 years ago Stan told me that Nov. 22, 1963 was probably one of the worst days of his life.
* Given Musial's obvious fondness for JFK, it's especially appropriate that he'll be honored today with Kennedy's only surviving sibling. Jean Kennedy Smith, 83, will also receive the Medal of Freedom award. She's among the 15 recipients.
* And it's worth noting that the Presidential Medal of Freedom was reestablished by JFK in 1963 after it had been discontinued by President Dwight Eisenhower. The award was originally established by President Harry S Truman in 1945. Truman, the most famous Missourian, would undoubtedly be pleased to see a St. Louis Cardinal receive this award. Truman and Musial knew each other and had many mutual friends.
* Musial and LBJ: In the spring of 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson asked the recently retired Musial to take over as director of the National Council on Physical Fitness. Musial agreed, and succeeded former Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson, who was planning to run for the U.S. Senate. After a four-day visit to California, LBJ returned to the White House for the official swearing-in ceremony. According to Time magazine, The Man looked around a crowded cabinent room, took note of all of the smiling VIPs in the room and joked, "If I'd known I had so many friends in Washington, I might have run for office." And then Musial winked at his friend, U.S. Missouri Senator Stuart Symington.
* Musial and Richard Nixon: The 37th President was an avid sports fan who fancied himself as a baseball historian. And Nixon was, in fact, knowledgeable about the national pastime. In 1972, Nixon received a lot of attention on the sports pages of the day by choosing an all-time baseball team for each league. Nixon had immense respect for Musial that transcended The Man's backing of Kennedy in the JFK-Nixon race in 1960. (And Musial supported George McGovern in '72. I know that Musial's friend Tom Eagleton was McGovern's running mate for a brief time. But I guess The Man wasn't able to win many votes for McGovern. In retrospect, Musial backing McGovern seems funny to me.)
At the end of a White House press conference in 1972, Nixon began chatting about baseball with reporters and named Musial as one of his favorite players. And in a comment that obviously would resonate with Cardinals fans, Nixon noted Musial's underrated status and remarked that if Musial "had played in New York, he would have been considered right there with the greatest."
In choosing the all-time team, Nixon separated it into two categories: pre-World War II and post-World War II. And Nixon placed Musial at first base on the NL's post-war team.
* In 2001, President George W. Bush honored several living Baseball Hall of Famers in a ceremony at the White House. Musial wasn't there, but "W" mentioned him anyway.
"It isn't always easy to be worthy of a kid's devotion or a teammate's trust," Bush said. "But the folks behind us tried. They were successful, and that's what made them great. Baseball isn't just in the stats, though of course, that's part of it. It isn't just the money. It really isn't who makes the Hall of Fame. As much as anything else, baseball is the style of a Willie Mays, or the determination of a Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle, the discipline of Carl Yastrzemski, the drive of Eddie Mathews, the reliability of a Kaline or a Morgan, the grace of a DiMaggio, the kindness of a Harmon Killebrew, and the class of Stan Musial, the courage of a Jackie Robinson, or the heroism of Lou Gehrig.
"My hope for the game is that these qualities will never be lost. Whatever else changes, even if the same nine innings run longer and the flyballs farther and the grass isn't always grass like it should be, those values are still what makes the boys and girls and the fans and players into legends."
* Of course, Musial met President Barack Obama at the MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis in 2009. The love shown to Musial by Cardinals fans made a lasting impression on Obama and probably played a role in the eventual decision to give The Man the medal.
As Obama said during the Fox Network's All-Star Game broadcast in 2009, "This is the national pastime," Obama. "So to go down there and meet Bob Gibson and Stan Musial and those guys, it's such a reminder of what's great about this country. You can't beat it."
* The Man will have another buddy standing with him today to receive the Medal of Freedom: Warren Buffett, the renowned investor from Omaha, Neb. Buffett and Musial have been friends for many years. At Musial's office, there's a photo of Buffett and Musial taken at Buffett's charity golf tournament many years ago. In the photo, Musial and Buffett are smiling. Buffett - one of the richest men in the world - is holding a billfold. And in Musial is playfully holding onto one half of the wallet -- as if to take it from Buffett.
At the top of the picture, Buffett wrote: "To Stan 'The Man.' A hero of mine 50 years ago - and still a hero."
And Buffet added a postscript: "P.S. Help. Send back my wallet."
* Finally, let's get to the numbers: The two greatest No. 6s in the history of American sports will be at The White House to receive the Medal of Freedom. Boston Celtics icon Bill Russell is among the 15 honorees. He wore No. 6 during his career. Musial was No. 6 for the Cardinals. Musial requires no reintroduction to this audience. But for those who need a quick history lesson on Russell: 11 NBA championship rings as a player and a coach; five-time NBA MVP; two-time NCAA men's basketball champion (at the University of San Francisco); an Olympic gold-medal winner; and the first African American to be a head coach or manager in a major U.S. professional sports league. This pair of 6s is truly remarkable. And to think that Russell could have been a St. Louis Hawk ...
I hope you enjoyed the Musial/politics history lesson.
I leave you with this: I was born 52 years ago on this day, and I have to say that of all the birthdays in my life, this one certainly is unique. A birthday at The White House? Watching Stan Musial be decorated with the most distinguished honor a civilian can receive in America? Truly a blessing.
Thanks for reading ...