Both come with stories that remind me of human kindness that may have been more prevalent when those two ballplayers were crafting their wares on the field.
The first one is of Stan Musial. Several years ago my newspaper assigned me a story on an elderly woman who was the grandmother of a prominent Arkansan. She was 102 or 103 years old and, while residing in a nursing home, her only infirmity seemed to be her hearing. She knew her baseball better than most people I know.
She spent the day talking about the St. Louis Cardinals and how then-manager Tony LaRussa should have changed his pitching rotation. Darryl Kile was still alive so it had to be before 2002; she thought LaRussa was not using his starters properly. Something about lefties versus righties match ups ... heady stuff for a centurion.
The Associated Press picked up my story and that weekend, Jack Buck read part of it and talked of the lady while broadcasting a Cardinals’ game on KMOX radio.
During the interview, she told me her favorite player ever was Ozzie Smith. So, a few days later, I called the St. Louis Cardinals organization to see if I could wrangle an autographed photo of Ozzie for her. Whoever answered the phone there gave me what she thought was the number for Ozzie’s people.
It wasn’t. Instead, it was Stan Musial’s people. When I asked for an Ozzie picture, the woman at Musial’s office said, “We don’t have any Ozzie Smith’s, but would she be interested in a Stan Musial?”
I was surprised, but I had enough sense to say, “No, but I know a reporter who would.”
A few days later, the autographed Stan Musial photo arrived at my home. (I was able to get the autographed Ozzie Smith photo for the lady as well.)
A few years later, I was doing a gavel-to-gavel coverage of a murder trial in an eastern Arkansas town. During a long lunch break one day, I stopped in an antique shop perched between Interstate 55 and a cotton patch.
I found autographed photos of Joe DiMaggio and Henry Aaron. Joe was my father’s favorite player. Henry is mine. I asked the proprietor the price of each photograph. After discovering I was a reporter in town to cover that trial, he offered me a deal: He’d sell me both photographs for the price of one if I would come to his shop during breaks and tell him the proceedings of the trial.
Of course I agreed.
So, now I have the two pictures displayed in what my friend calls the “baseball room.”
I obtained both photographs through kindness and an innocence that, I like to think, was more of the norm back in 1942.
Both baseball players are dead now. Musial, revered in St. Louis as one of the nicest people in sports, sadly, died last year. But their memories live on in the photographs, as does the kinder time when both players swung their bats.