Talking Politics
10:59 am
Wed January 23, 2013

Commentary: What politicians can learn from Stan Musial

At the first major league baseball game I ever saw, as a Cub Scout in old Sportsmans Park in north St. Louis, Stan Musial got his 2500th hit, a home run.  I became a Cardinals fan and a Stan Musial fan that day.

The arc of my life intersects with Stan’s in interesting ways.  Stan and my father were the same age and products of a similar upbringing.  Both saw hard times as teenagers in the Depression and served in the military in World War II. 

I saw Stan play ball in the second half of his wonderful career.  Even as a kid I appreciated his style as a player.  Only as an adult did I appreciate his style as a person.

Cardinals and St. Louis history dimmed in September 1963 when Stan retired and American history was permanently darkened two months later when John Kennedy was assassinated.  Kennedy’s personal and political legacy is mixed at best, but his presidency was a moment at the very end of a political era when all things seemed possible.

Much later my life intersected with Stan the Man’s in a completely unexpected and extraordinary way: his grandson enrolled at the college at which I am dean.  I got acquainted with Brian, the handsome young man you always saw with Stan and a spitting image of him in his twenties, and am proud of his earning a bachelors and a masters from Columbia College.

I get together with Brian for lunch from time to time in St. Louis and the two most recent times Stan was there.  Kids came over to the table chirping “Stan, Stan, can we get a picture with you?”  Their mortified mothers were always close behind but Brian was always ready.  The kids would gather around Stan and he would flash that wonderful grin and those twinkling eyes.  Brian would take a picture with his cell phone, get the mothers’ email addresses and send the picture on the spot.  Stan never said no to the fans who loved him.

You may wonder by now why I am talking about Stan Musial in a political commentary.  It is because all leaders, but especially political leaders, have so much to learn from him about authentic leadership.  Here’s the short list:

  • Love your spouse every day, like Stan did Lil for 71 years.
  • Live a life of complete integrity, every day.
  • Respect your constituents, like Stan respected his fans.
  • Walk your talk.
  • Respect your position, like Stan honored his uniform every time he put it on.
  • The center is a good place to be.  Stan got 3230 hits, 1815 on the road and 1815 at home.
  • Be authentic.  Americans can cut through politicians’ image-making and PR.  Eventually they expose phonies.  I’m thinking of Richard Nixon and John Edwards here.

So: President Obama, Speaker Boehner, Governor Nixon, Senator McCaskill, Mayor McDavid: Go ahead and read biographies of Lincoln.  Read David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman.  Read Ronald Reagan’s diaries.  You’ll learn a lot about leadership.  Then read about Stan Musial.  And try to emulate him with every fiber of your being.

Rest in peace, Stan.

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