Stan Musial

September 17, 1941: Stan Musial makes his debut

On September 17, 1941, the greatest Cardinal of all time, Stan Musial, made his major-league debut.

Sandwiched between center fielder Johnny Hopp and first baseman Johnny Mize in the No. 3 spot in the Cardinals’ lineup, 20-year-old Musial had two hits, including a two-run double, in the Cardinals’ 3-2 win over the Boston Braves.

The native of Donora, Pennsylvania, originally signed with the Cardinals as a pitcher in 1937. Upon graduating high school, he began his minor-league career and soon impressed his coaches with his hitting talent. That prompted them to play him in the outfield between his starts on the mound. A shoulder injury suffered in the outfield in 1940 made him a full-time outfielder, and in 1941 Musial hit .359 with 29 home runs between Class C Springfield and Class AA Rochester.

On September 15, the St. Louis Star and Times, Globe-Democrat, and Post-Dispatch all reported that the Cardinals had called up three players from the minors: Stanley Musial and George Kurowski from Rochester and pitcher Ed Beazley from New Orleans.[1][2][3] The following day, the Post-Dispatch added two more names to the newcomers: outfielder Walter Sessi from the Cardinals’ minor-league team in Houston and another Rochester outfielder, Irving Dusak.[4]

Musial joined a Cardinals team in the thick of the pennant race. With an 89-51 record, the Cardinals were 1 ½ games behind the Dodgers, who entered September 17 with a 92-51 mark. Despite their success, the Cardinal were slumping, hitting just .218 as a team over their previous 15 games.[5]

Due to an August rainout, the Cardinals and Braves were slated to play two. In Game 1, manager Billy Southworth started an outfield of left fielder Johnny Hopp, center fielder Terry Moore, and right fielder Estel Crabtree in a 6-1 win. The game was tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth, when the Cardinals rallied for five runs thanks to two Braves errors.

For Game 2, Southworth moved Crabtree to left field, Hopp to center, and inserted Musial in right for his big-league debut. The Cardinals squared off against Jim Tobin, a right-handed knuckleballer from Oakland, California, who came into the game 12-9 with a 3.03 ERA. Opposing Tobin was Max Lanier, a 25-year-old right-hander who was 8-8 with a 3.14 ERA.

Musial’s first at-bat came with no one on and two outs in the first inning, and Tobin’s knuckleball got him to fly out to Braves third baseman Sibby Sisti. In his 1964 autobiography, Musial said it was the first time he’d ever seen a knuckleball.

“It fluttered up to the plate, big as a grapefruit but dancing like a dust devil,” Musial said. “Off-stride, fooled, I popped up weakly.”[6]

Musial’s next at-bat would go much better. In the third inning, Lanier reached on an infield single and Tobin walked Hopp. With two outs, Musial doubled into the right-field gap, scoring both base runners to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

The Braves tied the game in the seventh when Eddie Miller hit an RBI triple and Gene Moore followed with an RBI single.

The game remained tied going into the ninth. Bama Rowell led off the top of the inning with a double into the left-field gap. John Dudra attempted a sacrifice bunt, but Rowell was unable to advance and the next hitter, Frank Demaree, grounded out to the shortstop. Lanier intentionally walked Miller and the Braves countered by sending pinch-hitter Johnny Cooney to the plate for Moore. The strategy didn’t work for the Braves, however, as Lanier got Cooney to ground out to second base to keep the game tied.

The Cardinals’ half of the ninth was brief, as Crabtree ended the game with a walk-off home run over the right-field wall. Tobin had retired the 10 previous batters he faced.

With the win, the Cardinals pulled within one game of the Dodgers, though they would finish 2 ½ games behind Brooklyn. Musial’s two hits (he singled in the fifth inning) led the Redbirds’ offense, which finished the day with six hits. Lanier allowed one earned run on five hits and a walk. He struck out three over nine innings as he improved to 9-8 on the season.

In the next day’s St. Louis Star and Times, W. Vernon Tietjen wrote that, “Southworth was greatly impressed with the hitting power of rookie Stan Musial, a big, rangy lad … Musial appeared nervous in right field, and didn’t play Miller’s triple too well in the seventh inning of the second game, but then what kid wouldn’t be?”[7]

The game marked just the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. Six days later, Musial hit his first home run in a 9-0 Cardinals win. In 47 at-bats in 1941, Musial hit .426 and drove in seven runs. It marked the beginning of a 22-year career with the Cardinals that included three World Series championships, three National League MVP awards, seven batting titles, and 24 all-star selections. Musial was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1969.

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[1] “Cardinals Call Up Three Stars From Minor League Clubs,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 15, 1941.

[2] Martin J. Haley, “Cardinals Nip Giants Twice And Cut Dodger Lead,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 15, 1941.

[3] W.J. McGoogan, “Dodgers 0, Reds 0 (8 ½ innings); Cards Idle, 1 ½ Games Behind,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 15, 1941.

[4] J. Roy Stockton, “Ernie White Draws Hal Schumacher As Rival On The Hill,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1941.

[5] “Good Pitching Helps Birds Win Twin Bill From Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 18, 1941.

[6] Stan Musial and Bob Broeg (1964), Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story as Told to Bob Broeg, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 49.

[7] W. Vernon Tietjen, “Cards, Game Behind, To Start Cooper Today,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 18, 1941.

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