Feb 16, 2011

Musial: "Greatest day in my life"

As he left the White House after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Stan Musial was asked to describe the experience and what it meant to him.
"This is the greatest day I had in my life," Musial said.
That's quite a statement, considering that The Man, 90, has had an extraordinary, almost incomprehensible, number of great days in his life. More than any of us can comprehend, really. The happy days include winning three World Series, three MVP awards, seven batting titles, playing in 24 All-Star Games, getting his 3,000th hit and becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Just to name a few.
But this one, Musial said, topped them all.
"I appreciate this very much," he said.
Around 90 minutes before, he had been given the medal by President Barack Obama, who gently patted Musial on the shoulder before placing the medal around The Man's neck. Other medal-winners removed their prizes immediately after the ceremony, but not Stan.
Musial was still proudly wearing the medal as he paused to speak for a few minutes on the sidewalk in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. He sat in a wheelchair, wearing leather gloves to ward off the chill, with two of his daughters rubbing his shoulders for additional warmth.
To Stan's immediate left was his beloved wife Lillian, also seated in a wheelchair. They were surrounded by their four children: son Dick and daughters Gerry, Janet and Jean.
It was a poignant moment, just seeing Stan and Lil and the entire family brimming with pride and joy.
The Musials have been sweethearts since age 16 back in Donora, Pa. They've been married since May 25, 1940 ... I believe that would be 70 years. Can you imagine that? Tremendous. And their love is very much alive and burning. It's also clear that they still have a lot of fun together.
"I married a pretty good wife," Musial said, in an intentional understatement devised to get a response from Lil.
Lil said, "I've always been proud of Stan from the very first day we met at 16 years old. I got him before he knew any better. It's been a long life and it's been really wonderful."
Musial was so fired up Tuesday he played the harmonica for members of the White House staff as he rolled into a reception area a couple of hours before the ceremony. That put smiles on the face of everyone in the room.
And near the end of post-ceremony party, an inspired and blissful Musial did it again, giving an encore performance that included the song, "Golden Slippers," the "Wabash Cannonball," and that chestnut of Musial chestnuts -- "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
See what happens when you invite The Man to the White House?
At age 90, he performs two shows daily.
No cover. No minimum.
And to think friends and family were concerned about how Musial would hold up through Monday's journey to Washington D.C. and the bustling activity of a long Tuesday. But as usual, Musial came through in the clutch. A natural-born crowd-pleaser, Musial came to D.C. and gave as much happiness to others as they gave to him.
"Stan was really on his game today," said a delighted Bill DeWitt Jr., the Cardinals' chairman. "He was really up for this. It was something else, at the end of the reception, with everyone milling around, Stan took out his harmonica and played a few tunes. Everyone came up and stood around him. It was really terrific. He was just great."
Perhaps summing up the remarkable nature of this day, Lil Musial smiled and said, "Wonders never cease with my husband."
The celebration would continue on the flight back to St. Louis.
"We have champagne on the plane," said Brian Schwarze, Musial's devoted grandson.
Let's all raise a glass to The Man.

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