Musial started his career as a pitcher. but after a shoulder injury he moved to the outfield in 1940. Musial played 1,890 games in the outfield and 1,016 games at first base, but was primarily known for his consistent hitting. The left-hander led the National League in batting average seven times and in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and hits six times each. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award in , , and , and in , received Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award. He is one of only two players to hit five home runs in one day—Musial did it in a doubleheader against the New York Giants in 1954 (Nate Colbert of the San Diego Padres accomplished the same feat in 1972). In addition to his three MVP awards (currently only nine players have won three or more), Musial also finished second in MVP voting four times, including three years in a row (from 1949-51), and finished among the top ten of NL MVP voting fourteen times between 1943 and 1962. Remarkably, Musial only struck out more than forty times in a season three times, two of them his final two years active, and only once (during his last active year) struck out more times than he walked.
His 3,630 career hits made him the NL's all-time leader on that list at the time he retired, and second in the major leagues to Ty Cobb. He still ranks fourth all-time, behind Pete Rose, Cobb and Hank Aaron. Musial's 3,630th and final hit was a single beyond the reach of Rose, then a rookie second baseman.
Musial's career was perhaps most notable for its consistency. His .331 career batting average ranks 30th; he batted .336 at home and .326 on the road. Amazingly, Musial had 1,815 hits at home, and 1,815 on the road. He batted .340 in day games and .320 at night. In his September 1941 debut, Musial had two hits; after he got two hits in his final game, 22 years later, a sportswriter jokingly wrote, "He hasn't improved at all."
Musial once said, "I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider; then, I'd pick up the speed of the ball in the first thirty feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it had crossed the plate."
Former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine once described his strategy of pitching to Musial: "I've had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third." Erskine's teammate, Preacher Roe, shared a similar sentiment. He summarized his strategy of pitching to Musial as "I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off at first." "Once Musial timed your fastball," observed Warren Spahn, "your infielders were in jeopardy." In another story, Willie Mays, then playing for the New York Giants, was receiving instruction from his manager Leo Durocher about how he should prepare defensively in center field for each of the hitters in the Cardinals' lineup. He described the weaknesses and tendencies of the first two hitters, then moved on to the cleanup (fourth) hitter. Mays interrupted to ask about the man in the third slot. Durocher replied, "The third hitter is Stan Musial. There is no advice I can give you about him."
It was fans of the Dodgers who gave him his nickname. Musial loved to hit in Ebbets Field and after several amazing hitting performances there, Brooklyn fans would see him come to bat, and say, "Uh-oh, here comes the man again. The man is back!" St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg picked up on this and said to the fans, "You mean THAT man?" and they said, "No, THE Man." Musial was "Stan the Man" from that point on. Typically, respectful Brooklyn fans did not boo him at Ebbets Field.
Like many American baseball players of his era, Musial spent part of his career serving in World War II, missing the season to serve as a seaman first class in the United States Navy from January 1945 to March 1946. Musial played in 24 All-Star games tying him with Henry Aaron for most all-time. The Cardinals retired his uniform number '6' at the end of the season. He was a fan favorite for his reputation, both on the field and off, as a gentleman. In Musial's 3,026 ML games, he was never once ejected from a game. Umpire Tom Gorman said, "The bigger the guy, the less he argues. You never heard a word out of Stan Musial...."
At the time of his retirement, Musial was among the all-time leaders in many offensive categories—first in Total Bases and Extra-Base Hits, second in Hits, Doubles, Runs Created, Games Played and At Bats, fourth in Runs and Runs Batted In, fifth in Walks, sixth in Home Runs, and eighth in Slugging Percentage and On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS).
The rise of Bill James and the extensive use of sabermetrics has enhanced Musial's credentials as not only one of the greatest of his generation, but of all baseball history. At Baseball-Reference.com, Musial is consistent among the various test leaders: He ranks fifth all-time among hitters according to the Black Ink Test (behind Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Ted Williams), third all-time on the Gray Ink Test (behind Cobb and Hank Aaron), tied with Barry Bonds for second in the Hall of Fame Career Standards Test, behind only Ruth, and ranks first among all hitters and pitchers on the Hall of Fame Monitor Test. Surprisingly, despite his towering reputation with statistic-based aficionados of the game, many common fans are unaware of his achievements, leading ESPN and other organizations to list him as the most underrated athlete of all-time.
A statue of Musial was erected outside of Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri in , and was dedicated after a Sunday afternoon loss to the Cubs on August 4, 1968. The statue was moved from its original location outside the old Busch Stadium (1966–2005) to the front of the new Busch Stadium for the first season in 2006. The statue has always been a popular place to meet friends at the stadium, and a small tradition among fans has been to climb the statue after the Cards' World Series wins in 1982 and 2006. It is inscribed with a quote from former baseball commissioner Ford Frick: "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."
Musial also served one year as general manager of the Cardinals. After the season, Musial succeeded Bob Howsam as GM and the Cardinals promptly won 101 games, the NL pennant, and the 1967 World Series title. Musial then stepped down at the end of the season and was succeeded by Bing Devine.
Following his retirement Musial has been a successful businessman and restaurateur, and remains a popular figure in the St. Louis area. When asked why he always seemed so happy, he remarked, "If you had a .331 lifetime batting average, you'd be happy all the time, too!"
In 1989, he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
In 1999, he ranked tenth on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. Some fans suggested that being placed so high on the list was a "hometown pick," as TSN is published in St. Louis. Musial did less well in fan voting for that year's Major League Baseball All-Century Team, but was added by a special committee along with Honus Wagner, one of only 30 players to be honored for his great success. The surprise at his high esteem among baseball critics and omission from fan-voted all-time teams are a reflection of his rather understated demeanor. Indeed, it was Musial's characteristic modesty, in addition to the fact that he played his entire career for a midwestern ballclub, that allowed his legacy to fall behind those of his contemporaries such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
On May 18, 2008, Stan was honored with the "Stan the Man" day at Busch Stadium, with Mike Shannon acting as emcee, Stan was honored for his contributions to the St. Louis Cardinals. Included during the ceremony was a proclamation from the Mayor, a street renamed after him, and a standing ovation.
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T = tied
Rankings as of September 27, .