At a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama called the Cardinals baseball great "an icon, untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you would want your kids to emulate."
Among others honored alongside Musial were former President George H.W. Bush, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former AFL-CIO head John Sweeney.
The Freedom Medal recognizes those who have made an "especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
Obama said that the 2010 medal recipients "reveal the best of who we are and who we aspire to be."
Musial, 90, clad in a Cardinals-red blazer, sat just behind the president and next to another athlete honored today, basketball great Bill Russell.
The president remarked that Musial's "brilliance came in blinding bursts," and listed some of his feats on the baseball diamond: five homeruns in a double-header; league leader in singles, doubles, triples and RBI in a single season; three World Series and a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Musial, Obama said, was "worthy of one of the greatest nicknames in sports, Stan the Man. My grandfather was Stan, by the way. I used to call him 'the man', too.
"Stan Musial made that brilliance burn for two decades. Stan matched his hustle with humility. He retired with 17 records, even as he missed a season in his prime to service his country in the Navy," the president said.
Before tying the blue and white ribbon with is medal around Musial's neck, Obama observed that Musial was the first baseball player to make $100,000 a-year.
"Even more shocking, he asked for a pay cut when he didn't perform up to his own expectations. Can you imagine that happening today?" Obama said, bringing laughter from the standing-room-only crowd.
After the awards event, fellow Hall-of-Famer and baseball broadcaster Joe Morgan described Musial as "a perfect gentleman, a perfect warrior."
Morgan recalled Musial's support of Jackie Robinson when Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.
"That made a difference, when you had a superstar like that stand up," Morgan said.
Among the dignitaries and politicians in the chandeliered room was Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who also dressed in bright red for the event.
McCaskill called Musial "a true American hero who has put his community and his country before himself. Stan Musial is not only the greatest Cardinal to play the game, but a great philanthropist who's used his notoriety to help others in need."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he recently retrieved his 1954 Rawlings Stan Musial baseball glove from his basement.
"It is rare in history to find such a public person without a detractor. On the field and off, Stan Musial was always a gentleman, always a champion," Durbin said.
Rep. William L. Clay, D-St. Louis, recalled going to ballgames at Sportsman's Park as a boy with his father and seeing Musial play.
"I then had the good fortune to know him as an adult. And I can honestly say that as magnificent a ballplayer as he was, he is truly a better citizen. Stan Musial is a national treasure," Clay said.
Also honored today were Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. and Sylvia Mendez, both civil rights leaders; Yo-Yo Ma, the famous cellist; John H. Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Jean Kennedy Smith, a former ambassador and sister of the late president; Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein; and American artist Jasper Johns.