For 22 seasons, Stan Musial wore out National League pitching. But the tables may have been turned if not for an injury he suffered during his brief Minor League career.
Musial, the Hall of Famer who died Saturday at the age of 92, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals after excelling as a pitcher in American Legion ball in Danora, Pa. He could hit, too, but -- according to baseballreference.com -- he went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA for the Daytona Beach Islanders of the Florida State League in 1940.
While playing outfield part-time that summer, however, the 20-year-old Musial injured his left shoulder diving for a fly ball. He gave up pitching (save for one Major League game at the end of the 1952 season), then totaled 204 hits and batted .359 while splitting the 1941 season between the Springfield Cardinals of the Western Association and Rochester Red Wings of the International League.
The Cardinals called him up in September 1941 and he never played another Minor League game.
In his first five big league seasons, Musial won two batting titles and twice was named National League MVP. He added a third MVP award in 1948 after leading the league in batting (.376), hits (230), RBIs (131), runs scored (135), slugging percentage (.702), on-base percentage (.450), doubles (46), triples (18) and total bases (429). He slugged a career-high 39 homers, finishing one behind Ralph Kiner for the league lead -- and the Triple Crown.
"He could have hit .300 with a fountain pen," said Joe Garagiola, Musial's teammate from 1946-51 and later a baseball broadcaster.
Nicknamed "The Man" by fans he routinely terrorized at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, Musial went on to hit .331 with 475 home runs and 1,951 RBIs in a career that spanned three decades. When he retired following the 1963 season, he held or shared 17 Major League and 29 NL records. And he still ranks in the top 10 in total bases, doubles, hits, RBIs and runs.
Cooperstown beckoned in 1969, when Musial was named on 93.2 percent of the sportswriters' ballots.
"How good was Stan Musial?" Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully once asked. "He was good enough to take your breath away."