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Stan the Man
The Life and Times of Stan Musial
By Wayne Stewart
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Wayne Stewart
All rights reserved.
Stan "the Boy" Musial
Long before he was Stan the Man, he was Stanislaus Frank Musial, the boy. To use a steel metaphor, which is fitting since he was born in a steel town, he was a blast-furnace product composed of a mixture of three ingredients: environment, heredity, and his times.
Musial's hometown of Donora, nestled in the Monongahela Valley in western Pennsylvania, is a very rugged Rust Belt town populated by equally rugged men. The town sits in Washington County, named after the man who surveyed it, George Washington.
By the time Musial was born, there were 350 coal mines and more than 30 steel mills in the Pittsburgh vicinity. Donora hosted a coal mine and the thriving United States Steel's American Steel and Wire Company, which perched near the Monongahela River. The Monongahela curls around Donora on its way to rendezvous with the Allegheny River.
From the river's horseshoe curve, the streets of town sloped upward, and many of the houses squatted at precipitous angles to those streets. In icy and snowy weather, cars strained and groaned up the myriad steep hills, desperately seeking a toehold. Meanwhile, children streaked down the same streets, almost sans friction, in a sled rider's paradise. Longjohns were de rigueur, sometimes for sleepwear, and even women and children became adept at banking their coal furnaces at night.
Nicknamed "the Home of Champions," the town has always loved sports and been a veritable hotbed of athleticism. Donora has also been home to a variety of nationalities. In the past, each ethnic group was steadfastly proud of its accolades — its Polish toughness or its Italian grit or its Slovenian strength.
Stan's Polish heritage was indeed a point of pride. "Very much so," agreed Donora native Ted Musial (unrelated to Stan). "He liked to be called 'Stash.' In Polish, that's Stanley."
Donoran Wallace Zielinski said, "All of the ethnic groups that came at the turn of the century more or less stuck with themselves — they went to their own churches, they went to their own clubs. They went there and they spoke their language. The churches had their priests that came from the same country and would speak their sermons in their language. When I was an altar boy, the priests would speak the sermon in Polish and in English — we would be there forever."
John Benyo Jr. of Donora said his grandfather, John Danek, whose native tongue was Polish, worked in the mill, where he gained the nickname "Manzanas," (meaning apples) from his Spanish coworkers because he always packed an apple in his lunch pail. "I can remember walking uptown with him and hearing, 'Hey, Manzanas, como esta?' My grandfather could actually speak better Spanish than he could English. Those guys worked together in the mill — they spoke Polish, they spoke Spanish, they spoke a little bit of Italian. Enough just to get by, so you could understand each other. And what got me was black people speaking Polish."
Joe Barbao Jr., whose father once coached Musial, stated, "You had so many different dialects in Donora and you got to understand different languages just listening to [fellow natives]. The first thing you know, you start talking like them, emulating them a little bit.
"If you went down to the Sons of Italy, you heard nothing but Italian; if you went to the Spanish Club, you heard nothing but Spanish; you went to the Polish Club, it was the same thing. It was a big melting pot there." Even into the 1960s, polka music was still standard Sunday fare on local radio stations, and some programming was carried out entirely in a foreign language, such as Polish.
Western Pennsylvania dialect, or "Pittsburghese," was quite distinctive anyway. Speech pathologist Speer Ruey said it entails an "unusual manner of speech, a manifestation of all the different ethnic dialects intermixed. If you listen to Dan Marino [of the Pittsburgh area] talk, it's almost like street talk. Instead of saying, 'that's,' it becomes "ats' [clipped off]; 'this and that' becomes "is anat,' and sometimes it's like a little bit of a drawl. It's a unique dialect." Further, said Ruey, the Mon Valley's dialect differs from others partly due to the many ethnic groups that settled there.
Once, when Ruey was tending bar part-time in Donora, Musial dropped by, speaking in his distinctive manner. "He comes up to the bar, shakes my hand, and he goes, 'Whaddya' say, whaddya' say? How-ya-doing, how-ya-doing? Stan Musial. Whaddya' say?' It sounded like, 'Come-on-babe, come-on-babe,' just like when we were chattering as kids on a baseball field."
Although the population of Donora topped out at around 15,000, it was often closer to 10,000. Today, that number continues to dwindle and is down to roughly 5,000 inhabitants. Still, the small town churned out an inordinate amount of great athletes with assembly-line precision and regularity. Yes, the hillsides were barren due to the mill's pollutants, but the town itself was fruitful, producing enough athletes to stuff a cornucopia to capacity.
Their 1945 football team was selected as the greatest in the history of Western Pennsylvania in a poll of coaches and sportswriters. They posted a perfect 10–0 record and outscored their opposition 297–13. The '45 team featured "Deacon" Dan Towler, who went on to lead the National Football League in rushing in 1952 as a member of the Los Angeles Rams.
In his senior year in Ringgold High School, Donoran Ulice Payne's basketball team made it to the state tournament semifinals with him leading the squad in scoring, despite the presence of a very talented teammate, Monongahela product Joe Montana. Payne was later a member of the 1977 NCAA champion Marquette Warriors team under Coach Al McGuire. In 2002 he became baseball's first African American president of a big-league team, the Brewers.
The list of local stars goes on. Three of them were bona fide baseball stars in the majors: Musial, Ken Griffey Sr., and Ken Griffey Jr. That trio had, through 2009, combined for 1,257 big-league homers. Another Donoran, Steve Filipowicz, also enjoyed a brief stint in the majors.
Donora was such a sports factory that Griffey Sr., once among the fastest players in the majors, stated that there were probably three or four athletes at Donora High circa the late 1960s who were faster than him.
One time Musial made it a point to meet with and tease Griffey Jr., telling him he was "the second-best left-handed-hitting, left-handed-throwing outfielder ever born in Donora, Pennsylvania, on November 21."
Baseball writer and analyst Bill James summed up what he perceived to be an Achilles-like phenomenon, stating, "My son is a ballplayer; I'm thinking of taking him to be washed in the waters of Donora."
Musial's nephew, Ron Nagy, said he couldn't pick Musial as the best athlete to come out of Donora High. "He'd rank up in the top five. I'm not going to say he's the greatest, only because there were guys who played three or four sports." Griffey Sr. was one such player, and he still holds school records for the most points in a single basketball game (40) and for a career (925) as well as the most rebounds for a game (27) and for a season (307).
In addition to environment — being from Donora, a place seemingly gifted with a magical athleticism — heredity came into play for Stan Musial, beginning with his father, Lukasz. He came from Galicia, a province of what was then known as Austria-Hungary but is now simply called Poland. While Austria is officially listed as Lukasz's place of birth in the United States census, his descent is clearly Polish. He was one of a slew of Poles who endured hardship, came to the United States in a wave of Polish immigrants some 1.5 million strong, and settled in the new country to raise a family. In 1902 there were just 139 Polish residents in Donora; that number bulged to 722 by 1910.
Most Poles found work in American mines, steel mills, and slaughterhouses, taking jobs where they could make money quickly. This often meant taking odious, perilous work. Although most of the immigrants had been farmers, accustomed to rural areas, in the United States they gravitated to towns and cities, hungry for work in this country that was in the midst of the industrial age.
One Polish immigrant commented, "I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: First, the streets weren't paved with gold. Second, they weren't paved at all. Third, I was expected to pave them."
The year was 1910. Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau was born; author Mark Twain died. The town of Monessen, Pennsylvania, which sits across the Monongahela River from Donora, at a distance of about five strong throws from a big-league outfielder, established a new speed limit for automobiles in town, 12 miles per hour. The population of Donora was growing rapidly, reaching a total of 8,174 residents.
Across a vast ocean, the young, blond-haired Lukasz Musial began his bold venture. After saying farewell to family and friends, he made his way to Hamburg, Germany; located the waterfront; and, before long, found his ship and hiked up its long gangplank. The first and shortest leg of his trip was over. He was aboard the President Grant, heading for the United States.
From the ports of Germany, mighty steamships carried travelers and cargo via the North Sea, through the English Channel, and then across the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The journey had been known to last as long as three weeks for some, but by the time Lukasz made the voyage, he sailed for just six days.
Passengers such as Lukasz, who could afford only the cheapest ticket, were still charged what seemed like a small fortune to them, approximately $25. Such voyagers traveled in third class, if lucky, or in steerage at the bottom of the ship, where they were forced to listen to the incessant pounding of the ship's steering machinery.
Typically, the shipping companies, eager to milk as much profit as they could from each trip, crammed many more passengers into those areas than they had room for. It was not uncommon for travelers to sleep four to a bunk in quarters that were, as one passenger put it, "dark, dank, [and] odor-filled." It mattered little to the companies that housing people in such a fashion violated laws. Furthermore, the human cargo was given inadequate food and had to stave off diseases, seasickness, and dehydration while coping with insubstantial bathroom facilities.
The final destination, Ellis Island in New York Harbor, was a glorious sight for Lukasz. Still, because some — about two percent — of the new arrivals were turned back, Ellis Island was known by a not-so-pleasant nickname, "the Island of Tears."
Emerging from the depths of the ship, Lukasz stared in wonder at the imposing New York skyline. His cool, gray eyes took in the drab January sky, but he felt no sense of gloom. This would be his gateway to a marvelous new country.
Lukasz, just 19 years old, had made his way on what newspaper cartoons called "the European garbage ships" and, after being examined for diseases such as trachoma, he made his way to the Great Hall (aka the Registry Room) on the second floor. There, in the cavernous room, filled with the noise of dozens of voices speaking myriad languages, the inspectors allowed this rather timorous, slight man to pass. No tears for Lukasz, just relief.
Lukasz's stay in New York was brief, so he had little time to be in awe of the behemoth of a city. He had to hop a train headed for Pennsylvania right away, drawn to the Mon Valley by plentiful jobs. Lukasz settled in Donora, the town where he would soon meet his future wife, Mary Lancos.
Mary was born in 1896 in a New York coal-mining town, to a family with Czeckoslovakian roots. Her parents, immigrants from Austria, raised a family of nine children, moving to Donora when Mary was a child.
Mary had been helping her family earn money since she was eight, working then as a house cleaner. She said of her impoverished youth, "Even when I was real little, I picked coal on the railroad tracks to keep us warm."
Unafraid of work, each morning Mary walked with her father down to the shores of the Monongahela and rowed her father to the other side. There, he would trudge four miles to his workplace, the Ella coal mine, where he worked a 12-hour shift beneath the earth for seven and a half cents an hour. Mary would row home, and the process would be repeated when her father got off work each evening.
Mary grew up to become tall (around 5'8"), strong, and spry, and wound up taking a job in the steel mill while still in her teens. There she first saw her husband-to-be. "I went to work sorting nails in the nail mill. I was a big girl, and nobody asked me how old I was. By the time I was 16, I was forelady of the nail room, and we worked long hours, believe me."
Stan would not only come to share his mother's good humor, but, said Joe Kostolansky Jr., the son of a Musial neighbor, "He had much of her mannerisms, and from the facial appearance you could tell that he was her son — they were look-alikes there."
As a 14-year-old, Mary attended a dance in town, and it was there that she met Lukasz. While her native language was English, he had yet to learn the language. That didn't matter. They were attracted to each other. Plus, Mary had picked up enough of his language from Polish girls she worked with to get by.
The small — slightly over five feet and 150 pounds — but muscular Lukasz, six years her elder, was already a veteran of the steel mills. His job, one of many he held, required him to hoist products, such as 100-pound bundles of wire, and load them onto freight cars, straining away day after day in the shipping department of the American Steel and Wire Company. For his toil he earned $44 per month (and he would never gross more than $4 per day).
On April 14, 1913, Lukasz, almost 23 years old, and Mary, just 16 years of age, were married in Donora. She apparently lied to officials about her age, listed on the wedding certificate as 21. Their first child came later that year, and Lukasz, his English steadily improving, became a naturalized United States citizen the following year. Still, being more comfortable with his native tongue, he would communicate with his children in Polish, and he could still neither read nor write in English. Ed Pado stated, "In those days, ethnic families would speak their [native tongue] at home" even though some spoke English quite well.
On November 21, 1920, Lukasz's firstborn son came along. His given name was Stanislaus, but Lukasz came to call him by the nickname Stashu, which was shortened to Stash, the name all of his friends growing up came to use.
He was born on Sixth Street and spent his early years at 465 Sixth St. Four girls preceded Stan in the family — Ida, Victoria, Helen, and Rose — but Lukasz had always wanted a son. Another boy, Ed, better known as "Honey," followed Stan in 1922.
Mon Valley resident Richard Bucchianeri said Honey and Stan "looked very much alike." Barbao Jr. added, "Honey was fun-loving and always laughing. Like Stan, he had an infectious laugh."
Honey has also been described as somewhat shy and diffident. Donoran Art Galiffa said Honey "didn't hang around with those guys [Stan's athletic friends]. It seemed like he was always by himself."
Former Pirates pitcher and Mon Valley resident Ron Necciai said, "Eddie didn't have the ability and couldn't play as good as Stan Musial. There's no question about it. He wasn't as big, wasn't as tall, he couldn't hit the ball as good. He was a pretty fair country player, but he wasn't of that caliber, [just] a pretty fair amateur. He [was] a pretty good minor-league ballplayer, but I don't think he was in anywhere near Stan's class. Not many people [were] in his class."
Ray Bradley, who graduated with Stan, critiqued Honey, saying, "He was a good ballplayer but not exceptional. I don't think he was that great a hitter. Somebody told me he couldn't hit a curve ball [well]." Galiffa said, "He tried real hard, but it seemed like he didn't mature [as a player]. He didn't make it."
In many ways, Honey did make it. In high school, he starred in both baseball and football. He was, according to his son Ed, "probably a better baseball player than a lot of people realize."
He was talented enough to play professional baseball and hit as high as .334 in Fayetteville in 1946. He finished in 1950 after he hit .283 for three teams in Class B and D. Overall, in 449 minor-league contests, he hit .304. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 81 after suffering from lung cancer.
Necciai called Honey a "very amicable, good, friendly guy. Nice guy." Necciai did not believe Honey felt he was constantly in his brother's shadow. Necciai said, "I don't feel, from my time playing ball with him, that he had any animosity. I always thought he was vastly proud of his brother and happy." Dr. Louis Ferretti of Donora concurred, saying, "He used to come down to our beer garden and [brag about], 'My boy, Stanley.'"
Excerpted from Stan the Man by Wayne Stewart. Copyright © 2014 Wayne Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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