Stan Musial played in his final major-league game on September 29, 1963, ending a 22-year career that saw him retire as the National League’s career hits leader.
Consistent to the end, Musial gave the hometown St. Louis fans a 2-for-3 afternoon. Both hits came off Cincinnati Reds starter Jim Maloney, who was going for his 24th win of the season. The first hit, a single to center field in the fourth inning, was the Cardinals’ first hit. The second hit, a single to right, scored Curt Flood with the game’s first run. The Cardinals would beat the Reds 3-2 in 14 innings.
Those two hits gave Musial 3,630 hits — 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road.
A Baseball Card Holdout
Musial had lots of hits and lots of fans — but not a lot of different mainstream baseball cards. When Topps entered the baseball card business in the early 1950s, Musial was under contract to Bowman, which had cards for “The Man” in its 1948, ’49, and ’52 sets and also in its 1953 color set.
But from 1954 to 1957, Musial did not appear in Bowman or Topps sets. In a 2001 interview with USA Today, longtime Topps executive Sy Berger said Musial “just didn’t want to sign (a contract) for cards.”
He finally made his debut in with Topps in 1958.
To honor the greatness of No. 6, here are six great baseball cards of “The Man.” Click the title of each to see them on eBay. A ‘most watched’ list is below.
Musial was featured on card No. 36 in Bowman’s inaugural baseball card set. It is credited as Musial’s rookie card, and coincides with perhaps his greatest season.
Musial led the N.L. in 11 offensive categories, including batting average (.376), hits (230), RBIs (131), doubles (46), triples (18) and runs scored (135). His career-high 39 homers put him one behind co-leaders Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize; one more homer and he would have completed the Triple Crown.
He also had 429 total bases and a .750 slugging percentage. His on-base percentage was .450 and he only struck out 34 times in 611 at-bats. He was a shoo-in for the league’s MVP award that year as the Cardinals finished in second place.
Not surprisingly, Musial’s card in this set is the most coveted — and most expensive.
1958 Topps All-Star
Musial made his Topps debut on card No. 476, in the high-numbered subset that named all-stars chosen by Sport magazine.
In that 2001 interview with USA Today, Berger said Cardinals owner Gussie Busch was raising money for charity and solicited Topps for a donation. Berger said Topps would donate $1,500 to Busch’s charity of choice — in exchange for Musial signing a deal to appear on a 1958 Topps card.
This card was triple-printed, one of two cards in the set with that designation. The other was card No. 487, an all-star card of Mickey Mantle.
1963 Topps Pride of N.L.
Card No. 138 featured two greats of post-World War II baseball. Musial was entering his final season as a player, while Mays was 31 and in his prime. On the card back, Mays is referred to as “a notorious .300 hitter,” while Musial’s “countless achievements fill many pages of the record books.”
The first regular (non all-star) card release of Musial, given a prime slot at card No. 150. This card features Musial following through on his classic corkscrew, “peek over the shoulder” stance. The light blue background makes for an attractive card.
Musial was coming off one of his better seasons, batting .337 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs in 1958. At age 37, Musial’s average was the third best in the NL behind fellow Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn (.350) and Willie Mays (.347). Right behind Musial in fourth place was another Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron (.326).
The year was also big as Musial joined the 3,000-hit club on May 14, 1958. However, Musial slumped in 1959, hitting a career-low .255 and fueling speculation that his career was about to end. He fooled them, lasting four more seasons before retiring.
Musial’s card in this set (No. 4) is also considered a rookie. The ’48 Leaf set is the first color baseball cards of the post-World War II era, and it was produced for issue during 1949. It also is one of the more difficult sets to complete.
While it is one of the more expensive cards in the set, it is not the priciest. That honor goes to the short-printed rookie card of Satchel Paige. The newest edition of the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball cards lists a near-mint page as being worth $27,000. Musial’s near-mint card books for a respectable $2,000.
This is one of the more popular issues of the 1950s, and was the first contemporary set to feature actual color photos of the players.
Musial is card No. 32, and his card features a nice, portrait-like shot of him in the dugout. The beauty of this card — and this set — is the uncluttered, simple look. There are no player or team names on the front, and no facsimile autographs. The cards are also the largest ones Bowman had put out to date, increasing the size to 2½ by 3¾ inches.
Musial was coming off a 1952 season that saw him hit .336 to win the sixth of his seven N.L. batting titles, and he led the league in runs scored (105) and doubles (42).
He batted .337 in 1953 but didn’t win the hitting title, but did lead the league in walks with 105.
And what about that final game?
In late July 1963, Musial told Cardinals general manager Bing Devine that he would be retiring at season’s end. St. Louis was in third place, seven games out of first place as late as August 30, but the Cardinals won 19 of 20 games to move within a game of the league-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
On September 16 in St. Louis, Musial hit a game-tying homer off the Dodgers’ Johnny Podres to tie the game 1-1 in the opener of a crucial three-game series. But the Dodgers won the game 3-1 and swept the series, ending the Cardinals’ charge. St. Louis won 93 games but finished six games behind Los Angeles.
So on September 29, the Cardinals were playing out the string, but the stands for that Sunday afternoon game were packed as 27,576 fans watched Musial’s finale.
After striking out on three Maloney pitches in the first inning, Musial singled his next two times up — connecting for his final hit on a 2-1 count — before being lifted for pinch-runner Gary Kolb in the sixth.
Musial received a standing ovation from the crowd, but cracked to Kolb as he passed him, “they love ya, kid.”
Musial left the game the way he entered it. In his major-league debut on September 17, 1941, Musial had two hits — including a double and two RBIs.
When Musial retired he owned 17 major-league records, 29 N.L. marks and nine All-Star Game records. He was baseball’s career leader in extra-base hits (1,377) and total bases (6,134). He led the N.L. in hits (3,630), doubles (725), RBIs (1,951) and games played.
By the way, the two hits Musial got in his final game were hit to the right and to the left of a young Cincinnati second baseman whose career would intersect with St an’s — Pete Rose, who would break Musial’s league record for hits on August 10, 1981, en route to a major-league record 4,256 hits.
Musial was there when Rose got hit No. 3,631.
“Stan was there to congratulate me,” Rose said. “I’ll never forget that. He was a great guy. He was in a class by himself. He was one of the greatest players of all time.”