Stan Musial

How Stan Musial became Cardinals general manager

Is Stan Musial the greatest general manager in St. Louis Cardinals history?

The question may be tongue in cheek, but no one can argue with Musial’s record: in his lone season as the Cardinals’ general manager in 1967, the Cardinals won the World Series.

Musial was named to the position on January 23, 1967, just one day after general manager Bob Howsam announced that he was leaving to accept a similar position with the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals had granted Howsam permission to speak with the Reds, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that, “The fact that the Cardinals apparently made no effort to hold onto Howsam after he had informed them of the Reds’ offer indicated that the Redbirds hardly were overjoyed with his 2 ½-year reign here.”[1]

After replacing popular general manager Bing Devine midway through the 1964 season, Howsam had angered many Cardinals fans when he traded infielders Bill White, Dick Groat, and Ken Boyer. He only made matters worse when he justified the White trade by suggesting that White, the future president of the National League, was much older than he claimed.

Since his retirement from the playing field in 1963, Musial had served as a vice president in the Cardinals’ front office while also attending to a number of other interests, including ownership of a sporting goods store, co-ownership of a restaurant, and serving as director of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s national physical fitness program (he resigned his role with the physical fitness program shortly after accepting the general manager’s job[2]).

“It’s funny that I never did want to set my sights on a job as field manager, but I always thought I’d like to be in some front-office capacity,” Musial said. “Even when I was still playing, I often was consulted about players and trades.”[3]

According to the Post-Dispatch, Musial’s role in the front office had expanded even before he was named general manager, particularly regarding player personnel and trades, and the paper reported that “Musial even indicated that he could have had the general manager job much earlier” had he wanted it.[4] Musial also played a key role in identifying his former roommate, Red Schoendienst, as the Cardinals’ next manager after Johnny Keane left for the Yankees one day after winning the World Series.

At a press conference announcing the hire, owner August A. Busch Jr. said that it hadn’t taken long to identify Musial as Howsam’s successor.

“Not very long, as a matter of fact – about 15 minutes,” Busch said. “We called a meeting of the executive committee and we decided right away.”[5]

Musial’s pay was estimated to be about $35,000.[6] As had been the case with most of the Cardinals’ general managers, Musial was working without a contract.

“I might say that Mr. Busch’s word is better than a contract,” Musial said.[7]

In his statement announcing the hire, Busch pointed to Musial’s baseball knowledge as a longtime player and his three years of service in the front office.

“During the years in which Stan was one of baseball’s brightest stars, he acquired a great amount of baseball knowledge,” Busch said. “In the three years since his retirement as an active player, he has become familiar with front-office operations. He has served an apprenticeship in baseball as have few men in baseball.”[8]

Nonetheless, even Musial’s friend Bob Broeg, sports editor of the Post-Dispatch, wondered how Musial would adapt to the new role.

“Is Musial qualified to be a general manager?” Broeg wrote. “If he’s going to be judged on articulation and pronunciation, though he handled himself impressively at yesterday’s press conference, the answer might have to be ‘no.’ If, however, he’s going to be judged on what he knows about baseball, for his sincerity and for his ability to extend loyalty and elicit it, he’ll do more than all right. He’ll need an executive assistant to take care of details and mind the store. He’ll need, too, a super-scout to survey other major league clubs and go out on special free agent scouting assignments. But the one thing he won’t need will be the friendship and cooperation of the Cardinals’ entire organization. He’s already got that.”[9]

Reporters also questioned why Musial wanted the job in the first place.

“The question of the month in baseball is: Why did Stan Musial, headache-free and independent, take the general managership of the Cardinals?” asked Dick Young in The Sporting News. “He is not a 9-to-5 guy, and even his friends, which number 1,863,467 at last count, say he isn’t tough enough for the job.”[10]

The answer, Musial explained, was simple – most of his business interests were primarily run by others. The Donora, Pennsylvania, native also wasn’t concerned about being tough enough for the most challenging aspects of the job.

“I can be as tough as I have to be, but that’s overdone,” he explained. “You don’t have to be tough at trade talks. I’ve sat in on enough of them to know. The hardest part is cutting some player’s pay, and most players know when they’ve had a bad year, and deserve it. The main reason I took the job is that I found myself with nothing to do. I’d go into the restaurant, spend an hour or so there, and then have a lot of time on my hands for the rest of the day. All my other interests are pretty much running themselves. My son is running my sporting goods business, and everything else is going smoothly. I needed something to do.”[11]

With little time before the Cardinals began spring training, Musial suddenly found himself with plenty to do, including signing many of the team’s players, including Roger Maris, who had just come to St. Louis in a trade with the Yankees.

“We have a good nucleus of veterans and young players, especially pitchers,” Musial said. “Getting Roger Maris should help our attack. Our big question is third base and it would be great if Mike Shannon can do the job there. But Ed Spiezio has never had a real opportunity at third base and he did an adequate job the last few weeks of the 1966 season. He has a good bat and we certainly can use one. It’ll be nice, too, to have Orlando Cepeda’s bat from the start of the season.”[12]

As a former player himself – one who at times had to hold out of spring training camp as part of salary negotiations – Musial was more direct in his negotiations than Howsam had been in previous years. In his 2001 Musial biography, James Giglio wrote that “Musial’s greatest impact came in contract negotiations. Many of the Redbirds, including Maris, had yet to sign their 1967 contracts. Musial made it easier for them by forsaking Howsam’s gamesmanship of submitting an exaggeratedly low offer so that after considerable bickering they could reach common ground. Musial viewed the process from a player’s prospective in providing fair – if not generous – offers from the outset.”[13]

Musial also introduced a babysitting service at the stadium so players’ wives could attend games.[14] In terms of personnel moves, Musial didn’t make many. He famously ignored the waiver wire, believing that the Cardinals had little use for players that other teams didn’t want.

On April 1, he traded Jerry Buchek, Art Mahaffey, and Tony Martinez to the Mets for Eddie Bressoud, Danny Napoleon, and cash (Bressoud hit .134 in 67 at-bats and Napoleon never played for the Cardinals’ major-league club). In July, he made another deal with the Mets, acquiring Jack Lamabe for a player to be named later (Lamabe went 3-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 47 2/3 innings). In October, Musial sent Al Jackson to New York to complete the deal.

The biggest player acquisitions under Musial’s leadership came in the June draft, when the Cardinals drafted Ted Simmons in the first round and Jerry Reuss in the second.

The 1967 campaign marked the Cardinals’ first full season at the new Busch Stadium, and the ballpark quickly established itself as a haven for pitchers, drawing the ire of Cardinals hitters. At an old-timer’s game, Musial put an end to the criticism when he homered off Bob Feller.

Tim McCarver and all the young guys, they’re all complaining about it’s hard to hit home runs here,” Musial recalled. “First time up, I hit one over the right-field (wall). I came running around and got to the dugout. ‘You guys are complaining about how hard it is to hit a home run. I’m (nearly) 47 years old.’ I got a kick out of that home run. Bob Feller just threw it in there, but still …”[15]

Musial wasn’t the only Cardinal who had fun that year, as St. Louis won 101 games to clinch the National League pennant. Pitchers Dick Hughes (16-6), Steve Carlton (14-9), Nelson Briles (14-5), Bob Gibson (13-7), and Ray Washburn (10-7) each reached double digits in wins, and Cepeda was a unanimous National League MVP selection with a .325 batting average, 25 homers, and 111 RBIs.

In a classic seven-game World Series, the Cardinals defeated the Red Sox in seven games, with Gibson winning the decisive contest.

Musial resigned his position as general manager that December, citing the need to spend more time at his restaurant following the death of his business partner, Julius “Biggie” Garagnani. Just over a year after term as general manager ended, Musial was elected to the Hall of Fame.

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[1] Neal Russo, “Musial Replaces Howsam as GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1967.

[2] James Deakin, “Musial Resigns U.S. Post,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 25, 1967.

[3] Neal Russo, “Musial Replaces Howsam as GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1967.

[4] Neal Russo, “Musial Replaces Howsam as GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1967.

[5] Neal Russo, “Musial Replaces Howsam as GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1967.

[6] Neal Russo, “Musial Replaces Howsam as GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1967.

[7] Neal Russo, “Stewart Expected to Be Named As Musial’s Chief Assistant,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 24, 1967.

[8] Neal Russo, “Musial Replaces Howsam as GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1967.

[9] Bob Broeg, “Musial and Schoendienst Are an Odds-On Entry,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 24, 1967.

[10] Dick Young, “Young Ideas,” The Sporting News, February 18, 1967.

[11] Dick Young, “Young Ideas,” The Sporting News, February 18, 1967.

[12] Neal Russo, “Musial Replaces Howsam as GM,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 23, 1967.

[13] James Giglio (2001), Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man, University of Missouri Press, Page 285.

[14] James Giglio (2001), Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man, University of Missouri Press, Page 285.

[15] Jack Etkin, “Grand Stan,” Rocky Mountain News, June 30, 2003.