Stan Musial, Goodbye to a Baseball Legend by Kevin Glew

"He didn't hit a homer in his last at-bat; he hit a single. He didn't hit in 56 straight games. He married his high school sweetheart and stayed married to her, never married a Marilyn Monroe. He didn't play with the sheer joy and style that goes alongside Willie Mays' name. None of those easy things are there to associate with Stan Musial. All Musial represents is more than two decades of sustained excellence and complete decency as a human being."

– Bob Costas, ESPN's SportsCentury series, 2001

Of the thousands of quotes you can read about Stan Musial, Costas, perhaps, best summarized the kind-hearted Cardinals legend in his description. Equally adored by teammates, fans and family members, Musial has been mourned deeply since he passed away on January 13 at the age of 92.

"When he died – as weird as it sounds – it felt like a part of my childhood had been taken away, even though I had never seen him play," said longtime Musial collector Drew Shimko, whose father regaled him with stories about Stan the Man when he was growing up. "I called my father after I heard the news [that Musial had died]. My dad is advancing in age, and Stan Musial was a connection we shared from when I was really little. It felt like I had lost a little part of myself that day."

Once deemed the most underrated athlete in U.S. sports history, Musial quietly racked up 3,630 hits (fourth all-time) in a 22-year career. His resume also boasts 6,134 total bases (second all-time), 725 doubles (third all-time), 475 homers (28th all-time), 1,951 RBIs (sixth all-time) and seven National League batting titles.

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For his efforts, Musial was selected to participate in 24 all-star games, was bestowed three MVP awards, was the backbone of three World Champion squads and was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (1969). He also played 3,026 big league games without a single ejection, and some would say he led all athletes in autographs signed.

Shimko, who has collected the No. 2 Current Finest Stan Musial Master Set on the PSA Set Registry, had the opportunity to meet Musial several times, and the baseball legend never disappointed him.

"The first time I met him I was about 10 years old and my father took me to a card show at Pocono Downs Horse Track, where he was signing autographs," recounted Shimko. "I was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, individuals waiting for a chance to speak with this legend and have him sign my baseball. The promoter was trying to rush things along, but when Stan saw me decked out in my Cardinals attire, he picked me up and sat me down right next to him so that my father could take a picture of us together."

Shimko says Musial proceeded to talk baseball for about 10 minutes.

"We later had the picture enlarged and Stan signed it for me. This picture is probably my most prized possession as it takes me back to a place in time where it was just my father, Stan the Man and I, where nothing else mattered," said Shimko. "My father kept a small version of this picture on his desk at work for years until he retired. I have the large autographed [picture] hanging on my wall at work where I see it every day."

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Bob Schrum, owner of the registry's top Current Finest Master Set, also enjoyed meeting Musial. He spoke with the Hall of Famer at a Frontier League game in St. Charles, Missouri.

"He was very approachable," recalled Schrum. "I got to sit there and talk to him for a few minutes, and that's the best memory I have of him." Having seen him only in film clips, it was great to meet him in person and actually talk to him one-on-one, he says.

Musial's lack of pretense is one of the reasons why such a devoted group of collectors are pursuing his cards on the PSA Set Registry. Four Musial registry sets have been formed: Basic (10 cards), Master (74 cards), Basic Topps (6 cards) and Master Topps (29 cards).

Musial's 1948 Leaf rookie (#4) is one of his most prized singles. This card was part of the first post-World War II baseball set to be issued in color.

"The card is very popular just because of the color and the popularity of that set. It has Jackie Robinson and a lot of tough-to-find Hall of Famers in it," explained Chad Addison, owner of the registry's No. 5 Current Finest Stan Musial Basic Set.

A number of condition woes hamper this card, including poor centering, print defects (such as distracting print lines) and toning. Of the 553 submitted, just two have been deemed PSA MINT 9s. A PSA NM-MT 8 sold for $5,275 on eBay in March 2010.

Musial's 1948 Bowman rookie (#36) is also very desirable, but its black-and-white picture makes it less appealing to some collectors than the Leaf rookie. Schrum says poor centering and toning on the borders sometimes plague this card.

Part of the Dimitri Young collection, the sole PSA GEM-MT 10 example was sold for $129,851 in an SCP Auctions sale in May 2012. PSA 9 examples are also fetching significantly more than they were a few years ago. One commanded $15,120 in a Greg Bussineau Sports Rarities auction in December 2012.

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"The Bowman rookie is just an iconic shot of Musial," said Shimko. "I guess it just comes down to preference. I like the color that's on the [1948] Leaf, but I like the head shot that's on the 1948 Bowman. I think it gives you more of an idea of who he was."

Another Musial card that has seen its PSA 9 value spike over the past few years is his 1952 Bowman single (#196). The first full color Stan the Man card, this is one of his most visually appealing singles.

"I think the price of the 1952 Bowman card is finally starting to get to where it should have been all along," said Shimko, adding that it's difficult to find centered.

Of the 1,074 evaluated, there has yet to be a PSA 10 and there are 33 PSA 9s, one of which fetched $3,704.47 in a Mile High Card Co. auction in February 2013.

Musial's 1953 Bowman Color single (#32) is also highly coveted.

"That's a great card because it's in color and it's a casual picture of him just smiling in the dugout," explained Addison.

Shimko also praises the 1953 Bowman Musial card.

"It's the most beautiful card produced for that set, with the exception of the Pee Wee Reese card," said Shimko. "It's a color photo that just really pops out at you. If you have to have one Musial card and you don't want to go with the black-and-white [Bowman] rookie, I'd say the 1953 Bowman would be the one to own just for aesthetics."

Of the 1,168 evaluated, there have been just 15 PSA 9s (with nothing grading higher). A PSA 9 sold for $4,792.13 in a Memory Lane auction in May 2012.

Musial's relationship with the major card manufacturers of his era has long baffled hobby experts. He didn't appear in a regular Topps set until his 1958 Topps all-star card (#476) was released. The Cardinals great never provided an explanation as to why he didn't appear in a Topps issue until that late in his career.

"He just didn't want to sign for cards," longtime Topps executive, Sy Berger, told a USA Today reporter in an article published in March 2001.

In the same story, Berger adds that Musial agreed to appear in the 1958 set after Topps boss Joseph Shorin pledged $1,500 to a charity for which Cards' owner August Busch was campaigning.

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Shimko notes that Musial's 1959 Topps single (#150) is elusive in pristine condition.

"I would still consider that to be one of the toughest Basic Set cards simply because of the print spots," he said. "It's a nice blue background. You can find them nicely centered and you can find them with nice corners, but to find them without the white print dots or little bubbles in the background has been a challenge."

The 24 PSA 9s are the highest graded examples of this card. One PSA 9 sold for $857 on eBay in November 2012.

In 1954, Musial didn't appear in the Bowman or Topps sets, but he was featured in the 1954 Red Heart Dog Food issue (which is part of the Musial Master Set). While most singles in this 33-card set are readily available, the Musial, with its stunning red background, is a short print.

"It's definitely one of my favorite cards," said Addison of the Red Heart Dog Food issue. "It's a beautiful card. As far as the color goes, it's very similar to the 1952 Bowman and 1953 Bowman Color [cards]."

Shimko notes, however, that the red coloring tends to bleed through the back and that this card is sometimes found off-center. Just five PSA MINT 9s exist, with one of them selling for $4,024.38 in August 2006.

The 1955 Rawlings cards have also proven to be tough for Master Set collectors to track down. Featuring black-and-white photos of Musial set against a blue background, these six cards had to be hand cut from boxes that housed a Stan Musial model glove. Due to their position on the box, two of the cards – commonly identified as #1A and #2A – are smaller in size (2" by 3") than the other four, 2-1/2" by 3-3/4" cards.

"The cards cannot measure under the listed specifications in order to receive the numeric grade," said Schrum. "To find a card that you might receive a good grade on is almost impossible."

Addison agrees.

"There are only nine cards total from this set that are graded PSA [PR] 1 or higher," he noted.

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Just 40 Rawlings cards in total have been submitted to PSA, and the highest grade any card has received has been PSA VG-EX 4.

Musial's 1962 Venezuelan Topps card (#50) is also evasive in pristine condition. Poor card stock is one of the reasons for this card's condition sensitivity. Albums were distributed for many of the Venezuela sets, encouraging collectors to stick their cards inside of them. As a result, many of these singles showcase glue damage or have paper missing.

The 1962 Exhibits Pittsburgh card is also elusive. Little is known about this issue, but the set's emphasis on Pirates players suggests it was released in the Pittsburgh area in 1962 (though there's no copyright information on the cards). Featuring a playing card design, the cards were reportedly distributed in penny arcade machines at, among other places, Kennywood Amusement Park near Pittsburgh. Only three examples of the Musial card – which is the four of hearts – have been graded, and at one time, Shimko owned all of them.

Over the years, Musial has developed a passionate collector following that diligently pursues these rare, Master Set cards, as well as his Basic Set singles. And although this group isn't as big as the hobby contingent that focuses on Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle, it does seem to be growing.

"I've sold some duplicate cards, and I've noticed that there seems to be more people looking at the cards [on eBay]," said Schrum.

Addison has also witnessed an increase in interest.

"I think people are starting to look at Musial's numbers and they're starting to see how comparable they are to other greats from his era, whether it's Mantle, Mays, Williams, DiMaggio or any of those guys that overlapped in time periods," he said. "Musial is one of the more affordable guys to collect."

And that has helped hobbyists like Addison, Schrum and Shimko assemble first-rate Stan the Man collections – collections that they plan to continue adding to largely because of their admiration for what Musial did both on and off the field.

"He represented the pure spirit of the good ole game – as far as just being a gentleman, keeping things clean and respectful, having fun and being competitive," said Addison. "He was always trying to be the best at the game, and he represented himself with class and professionalism at all times."

Shimko concurs.

"I'm always going to remember the first time I met him with my dad and just how genuine and nice he was," he said. "And knowing already that he was a great ballplayer, meeting him just confirmed that I was going to be a lifelong Cardinals fan."

View the set in the PSA Set Registry.


Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Drew Shimko for providing a photo to go with this article and to Chad Addison for providing many of the card images. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of March 2013.