Monday, January 28, 2013

Author Spotlight, James N. Giglio on his book Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man

Musial by James N. Giglio
In the most comprehensive assessment of baseball legend Stan Musial's life and career to date, James N. Giglio places the St. Louis Cardinal star within the context of the times (Great Depression and wartime/postwar America) and the issues then prevalent in professional baseball, particularly race and the changing economics of the game. Giglio illuminates how the times shaped Musial and delves further into his popular image as a warm, unfailingly gracious role model known for good sportsmanship and devotion to family.

Why did you choose to write about Musial?  
I have always been interested in sports history, especially baseball during the Musial era.  I saw the value of sports history provided that one could place it in the context of our social history.  Insights can come from that.  I grew up in the Musial era; the book enabled me to connect with my youth and to that time. 

What were the challenges you faced while researching the book?  
First of all, sports figures do not write letters, and they don't usually save the letters they received.  So, there is the absence of primary sources that one can customarily rely on in doing political and diplomatic history and even more traditional social history, for that matter.  I combated that problem by sending out a questionnaire to over a thousand ball players who competed with or against Musial. (detailed in the preface of the book).  I also did a lot of interviewing. Moreover, there is a lot of mythology connected with sports figures that found its way in the sports sections of newspapers or in sports magazines.  One has to put that stuff aside.  Sports figures, Musial included, tend to be overly sensitive about writers digging into their personal lives, perhaps, sometimes with good reason.  Superstars especially wish to retain their hero image and sometimes resent any attempts to humanize them.       

Where did the names 'Stash' and 'Stan the Man' originate?  
Stan's father in Donora, Pennsylvania, called him Stashu, a Polish nickname.  It soon became Stash (sounding like Stush).  Consequently, beginning in his youth, all of Musial's Donora friends called him that and so did some Cardinal players early in Musial's career.  In the post World War II era, Musial used to clobber Brooklyn Dodger pitching especially at Ebbets Field.  In 1946 Brooklyn fans started to chant "Here comes the man" when he came to bat. Sportswriter Bob Broeg, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote about that and that is how it began.     

What is your favorite part of the book?  
The chapter titled "Anatomy of a Superstar" because it was there that I best defined him as a person. Biography should encompass both a person's career and his or her personality and character.  I thought I did the latter best in that chapter.

Did Musial enjoy playing or watching other sports?  
As a high schooler he was an excellent basketball player who could have competed at the college level.  The high school football coach wanted him to compete, but Musial chose not to.  He also became an above average golfer.  As far as I could tell he enjoyed watching all major sports.

Since your book was first published in 2001 have any noteworthy things happened for Musial since then?
The most important event occurred on February 15, 2011, when Musial received from President Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  That came not only for his performance as a superstar, but for his character and for his service as baseball's unofficial ambassador following his playing days.

What do you think Musial would like people to remember about him?  
I think he would would most like to be remembered as a kind and decent person, one who loved his family and the St. Louis community, especially the fans who were never denied his autographs.  It meant much to him that he played an important role in the Cardinals' three World Series championships.  He was also proud of his lengthy, durable career that included a batting average of .331 with 3,630 hits and 725 doubles, at the time of his retirement a National League record.  

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