Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

January 24, 2013

Mike Eckert: Musial made impact on, off field

Since his passing on Saturday, the baseball world has mourned, reflected and remembered St. Louis great Stan Musial.

A three-time World Series champion. A three-time MVP. A Hall of Famer. One of the greatest hitters — a .331 career batting average — of all time.

But read any story about Musial this week, and you're bound to hear him defined by the kind of human being he was off the field. I can't find a bad word written about him. Musial made time for everyone — whether for an autograph or to play 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' on his harmonica — and is remembered as the kind of person who makes an impact on those he had contact with.

That includes Traverse City's Edwin Mucha.

Musial and Mucha grew up in the small town of Donora, Penn., less than 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. Mucha is 17 years younger than Musial, so they didn't know each other growing up. But Mucha still has fond memories of "Stan The Man."

"He was a practicing Catholic and supported the church (in Donora) all the way through," Mucha said. "Whenever we needed something, he would always donate and sacrifice. He never forgot who he was or where he came from."

Both Musial and Mucha spent their adult lives away from Donora — Musial in St. Louis and Mucha in Traverse City, where he moved in 1954 as a member of the Air Force and settled after meeting his wife Betty.

Years ago, Mucha saw Musial interviewed on TV talking about the Pete Rose scandal. He decided to look him up, and eventually got in touch with the Hall of Famer. They talked on the phone, and while Musial didn't remember Mucha, he remembered his father, and the two reminisced about growing up in Donora.

"I asked him how he could always place the ball," Mucha recalled. "He said 'you played at Legion Field. What was in right field?' I said the river. Stan never wanted to hit it in there."

A couple of weeks after they talked, Mucha received an autographed baseball in the mail.

Mucha said the connection between his family and Musial goes back a couple of generations. Mucha's grandfather and Musial's dad left Poland together and settled in the steel town of Donora. Growing up, Stan was closer in age to Mucha's father.

"Back then, we always had teams," Mucha said. "I can remember my dad playing until he was 40 years old. I remember him coming home and saying the bat boy was the best player on the team. That was Stan."

When Mucha was a kid, he didn't fully appreciate how big of star Musial had become. That was until Musial's father died in 1948.

"We were members of the little Polish Catholic Church and I was an altar boy," Mucha said. "When (Stan's) dad died, I can remember all of these baseball players coming in. Red Schoendienst was there. That was the first time I realized he was a big deal."

Mucha's dad would take him to see the Cardinals play when they visited Pittsburgh.

"He (Musial) still belonged to the Polish club and would send tickets when the Cardinals were in town," Mucha said. "I had never seen my dad cry. But when he saw Stan playing, tears were running down his face. And then Stan would wave at him. He couldn't believe a guy he watched grow up was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals."

It's been 50 years since Musial last played in the major leagues. Yet people have fond memories of him both on and off the field.

As you watch Mucha beam while retelling the stories of Musial from his youth, it's clear that everything he remembers is in a positive light. Certainly, that comes from Musial's lifetime of treating people the right way.

There will be visitation today in St. Louis for Musial, with his funeral on Saturday. No doubt, there will be hundreds of people retelling stories of not only Musial's on-field heroics, but of his quality character off the diamond.

Hall of Fame player. Hall of Fame person.

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