A search through baseball history is underway to identify a most unusual Stan Musial photo.
What if the greatest St. Louis Cardinals player ever, Stan Musial, didn’t always wear number 6 as has been reported for the last 70 years? It would be akin to catching Albert Pujols sporting something other than 5, a number that seems destined one day to be retired alongside Musial’s 6.
Actually, the latter did occur. It was during in spring training 2001 when the then-relatively unknown Pujols was assigned number 68. The attached photo offers proof. Of course, that didn’t last long as Albert soon stormed onto the major league scene, assigned his familiar number 5 forever more.
My Monday and Tuesday was turned upside down upon receiving a note Mike Oasheim sent to SABR member Mark Stang. Oasheim enclosed a photo from The Baseball Magazine supplement of young Musial. It was taken by well-known photographer William C. Greene of The New York World-Telegram and copyrighted in 1942.
Stan is not wearing number 6.
Greene is very familiar to Stang, the latter being the author of numerous books, including a Cardinals photo history entitled “Cardinals Collection, 100 Years of St. Louis Cardinals Photos”. Based on having viewed hundreds of the Greene’s photos, Stang observes that the photographer did all of his work in New York at either the Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium.
Number 18 or 19
This sent an army of SABR members and researchers scurrying off to access Cardinals schedules, scorecards, box scores and rosters to try to determine when Stan would have been photographed in New York’s Polo Grounds against the Giants in late 1941 or during 1942 and when he might have worn number 18 or 19.
This seems an impossible task. That is about the time I joined the search.
When Musial came up to the Cardinals late in 1941, he was immediately assigned number 6, never to wear another jersey. I have seen this written about in many places, including at least three books. I re-confirmed with Cardinals Museum curator Paula Homan Tuesday morning that Stan always wore number 6 with St. Louis.
To date, all information unearthed by SABR members affirm Musial’s use of number 6 when playing in New York. Further, 1942 scorecards identify Cardinals Lon Warneke and Harry Gumbert as having worn the numbers in question in the games in question, Stang notes.
The Rochester theory
Musial’s uniform looks like the standard issue Cardinals wools from that timeframe, but the front is obscured by his swing. Something else looked odd to me. As I zoomed in on the cap logo, it was clear that it is not the standard “StL”. It is a bird.
I immediately wondered it might be a Rochester Red Wings cap. Just prior to joining the Cardinals late in the 1941 season, Stan played for the International League Red Wings, then St. Louis’ top minor league affiliate.
After Musial joined the Wings, I found a reference to him playing in Jersey City in front of GM Branch Rickey. In addition, Stang noted the Wings faced Newark in the 1941 IL post-season. Photographer Greene might easily have been dispatched from nearby New York, especially to cover the playoffs. The Newark Bears were the top Yankees’ farm club and had a most-impressive 100-54 record heading into the post-season.
The Red Wings are still in business today and though they are no longer associated with the Cardinals, they are a member of the family in a way. Rochester Community Baseball, the parent of the Wings, the Twins Triple-A affiliate, operates the Cardinals New York-Penn League affiliate, the Batavia Muckdogs.
Chuck Hinkel, the very helpful Wings PR director, has no record of what number Stan wore in 1941, but after reviewing the cap and jersey, he verified they do not match Rochester garb of the era. Hinkel also contacted the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for assistance, but they have no photos of Musial as a Red Wing that indicate his uniform number.
The spring training theory
After I unearthed several other photos of Musial wearing a similar bird-logoed cap in spring training 1942 and Stang checked other archives, he gravitated to thinking that was the date of the photo. Stang cited the wooden supports of the grandstand roof in the background suggesting a minor league setting rather than a major league park.
Certainly trying to identify the background would help, but lacking specifics, we don’t know if the minor league park was in Florida rather than New Jersey. If the former, then we would also need to solve the mystery of why the New York photographer would have been in Florida when there is apparently no other record of him having shot photos there.
Then, of course, there is the question of why Musial would be wearing a number other than 6 in 1942 spring training after he had already played the final weeks of the 1941 major league season with 6 on his back.
Yet the idea of Stan wearing a higher number in spring training is hardly out of the question. What if it wasn’t in 1942 when he was already a major leaguer, but was earlier?
The Man’s man
I contacted Dick Zitzmann, Musial’s personal representative. He asserts the major league team wore the bird-logoed caps in that era and believes the photo is from spring training 1941.
Like the rest of this hunt, I am not so sure.
It seems less likely to me that Musial would justify an individual photo shoot in spring 1941, as he was considered a struggling low-level minor league player at the time. Musial, who was in the very early stages of trying to handle a conversion from pitching to the outfield after injuring his arm the previous summer, was reportedly worried he might be released. Biographies note that he was unwanted by the Cardinals’ A and B level clubs coming out of spring training 1941.
At best, Musial seemed destined to return to Class D for a fourth season after having pitched there the previous three seasons until Springfield’s Ollie Vanek agreed to take Stan for his Class C club in 1941. Vanek helped teach Stan how to play the outfield. Musial would excel most of the summer there (MO) before being promoted to Rochester, then ultimately St. Louis before the 1941 season ended.
I am hoping we can get Musial’s own view, but I don’t yet know about that.
More to come….
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