ST. LOUIS -- Stan Musial already has a statue in St. Louis named after him. If state and federal lawmakers get their way, a new Mississippi River bridge also will carry the name of the St. Louis Cardinals great.
Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, and Dick Durbin, of Illinois, proposed legislation Wednesday that would name the new bridge the Stan Musial Memorial Bridge—some are already dubbing it the “Stan Span.” The bridge carrying Interstate 70 traffic is expected to open in 2014.
Musial, a three-time MVP and seven-time National League batting champion who spent all 22 seasons of his career with the Cardinals, died Saturday after several years of declining health. He was 92.
“The respect and devotion that people have for Stan Musial has more to do with his character than his swing,” McCaskill said in a phone interview. “His swing was amazing, a unique thing of beauty, but it was the man that made a lot of decisions in his life that just reflect the kind of values that we all want as Americans.”
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KMOX Radio polled several fans at last week’s Cardinals Winter Warmup and there was virtually unanimous support for naming the bridge for Musial. Two Missouri state senators—Republicans Eric Schmitt and John Lamping, both of St. Louis County—introduced identical bills Tuesday in Jefferson City to name the bridge for Musial. Illinois lawmakers also would have to approve the name. McCaskill figures they would.
“As most St. Louisans know, folks that live on the Illinois side of the St. Louis region are by and large Cardinals fans,” McCaskill said. “They aren’t cheering for the Cubs. I think it (naming the bridge) is something that unites the two states.”
Musial was a beloved figure in St. Louis, as much for his kindness and approachability as his on-the-field prowess. That’s saying something because he is among the baseball immortals, with 3,630 hits and a lifetime .331 average. He led the Cardinals to three World Series titles in the 1940s.
After retirement Musial was briefly general manager of the Cardinals, including during the 1967 World Series championship season. He operated a popular restaurant for years and made frequent appearances before big games. His last came during last year’s NL Championship Series, which the Cardinals eventually lost in seven games to San Francisco.
A statue of Musial that stood for years outside of the old Busch Stadium was moved to the new ballpark when it opened in 2006. Since Musial’s death, hundreds of fans have dropped off cards, flowers, balloons and other items in his honor.
As a senator, McCaskill was there when Musial received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in February 2011, and she sat with him at the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis. But it was a chance meeting when she was a young woman that stood out.
“I met him in a restaurant in Jefferson City,” she recalled. “He immediately pulled out his harmonica and wanted to play for me. He clearly loved people and loved life.”
Thousands of fans are expected for a public visitation Thursday at The Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. Musial’s popularity was such that two Roman Catholic Cardinals and a bishop will celebrate his funeral Mass on Saturday. Afterward, a funeral procession will make its way to Busch Stadium, where his family will lay a wreath at the base of the statue.