ST. LOUIS • After the first game of a brief, two-day stay against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Cardinals great Stan Musial pulled aside his former teammate and current coach Terry Moore with a suggestion.
Musial's base hit in the first game gave him 2,999 in his career, one shy of becoming the eighth player in major-league history with 3,000. A homestand was set to start in a day, so Musial suggested he skip the game at Wrigley so that he could reach the milestone back at home, at Busch, in front of a home crowd.
Manager Frank Hutchinson agreed and on May 13, 1958, Musial was not in the starting lineup.
History happened anyway.
Musial, 37 at the time, was coming off a season when he won his seventh and final batting title and finished second in the National League MVP race to Hank Aaron. It was the last time Musial would finish in the top nine. Musial hit .351 with a .612 slugging percentage, and in modern terms he led the league with a 1.034 OPS. Only four times previously in his career did he have a higher OPS than in 1957. That summer put him 43 hits shy of a goal he'd privately been chasing for a decade, as mentioned in this little book I wrote a few years ago (priced to move!). It had been 16 years since the last 3,000th hit was whacked, and it would be another dozen before Aaron and Willie Mays would both reach the magical number in 1970.
Musial was alone in the chase, though plenty of history swirled around him off the baseball field. That same day, May 13, rioters swarmed U.S. vice president Richard Nixon in Venezuela. Hitchcock's "Vertigo" opened in theaters four days earlier and was drawing crowds, and quietly the shoe industry and fastening business was forever altered by a trademark submitted that same day. It was for Velcro.
Musial was batting .483 when he stepped out of the lineup to save his 3,000th for St. Louis, but that was too tempting of a bat for Hutchinson to keep on the bench for long.
In the Cubs leading, 3-1, in the sixth inning and the tying run set to come to the plate, Hutchinson asked Musial to pinch-hit for pitcher Sam Jones. Musial uncurled from that signature stance and lashed a double into the left-field corner. That smack uncorked a rally and the Cardinals won, 5-3.
The celebration that Musial imagined for St. Louis instead happened all the way back to St. Louis. The Cardinals' train ride home became a whistlestop tour of sorts with crowds flocking to cheer Musial at the train steamed by. The train had to stop a few times in Illinois just so the crowd could salute The Man. When the train finally got to Union Station in St. Louis, it was approaching midnight and still a throng of fans were waiting for Musial.
The future Hall of Famer spotted all the kids in the crowd and greeted them with the first thing that popped to his mind.
"No school tomorrow!"
And thus began and ended Musial's run as superintendent.
The lefthanded-hitting Musial was back in the lineup May 14, starting at first base, and set receive an ovation from the home crowd for his feat. He gave them the show he promised. Musial's 3,001st hit was a home run, and he kept going with his 3,002nd and 3,003rd hit in the same game. By the time the game was over the and the Cardinals had defeated the visiting San Francisco Giants, 3-2, Musial's average was .500, in mid-May.
It would be a few days before his name wasn't in the lineup again.