The other day, I shared several examples during Stan Musial’s Hall of Fame career when he held out due to salary disputes with the ownership of his only home as a major leaguer, the St. Louis Cardinals. I did so with Albert Pujols’ current contract stalemate in mind.
There are similarities between the two stars both on and off the field. In fact, both were even medal recipients in Washington, D.C. in recent months, though Stan’s was awarded by the President of the United States.
|Pujols and Musial, October 2010|
Upon Musial receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom last month, one of his many virtues cited by President Obama was the often-repeated story of his request for a pay cut following a subpar season.
Here are some of the supporting facts, including Musial's own account of how he had previously asked for and had been granted what at the time was a new record salary.
In an exceptional 1957 campaign during which he earned his seventh and final National League batting crown at .351, Stan also completed his seventh consecutive year making exactly $80,000. His last raise had been in 1951.
With the club having drawn almost 1.2 million fans, best since 1949, Musial was looking for a raise in 1958. It wasn’t just any increase, however. At age 37, the unassuming Cardinals star decided he wanted a record salary, eclipsing the current league high, set back in 1952.
Musial himself provided the details in his 1964 biography, Stan Musial: “The Man’s” Own Story. General manager Bing Devine asked Stan what he had in mind for his 1958 contract.
“‘I’d like,’ I said, ‘to be the highest-salaried player the National League has had. I believe Pittsburgh paid Ralph Kiner about $90,000.’
“Devine stuck out his hand and we agreed on $91,000. Before the formal signing at the brewery, though, Bing called me back into his office.
“’I’ve got some pleasant news for you, Stan,’ he said. ‘Mr. Busch wants you not only to become the highest-salaried player in National League history, but the first to receive $100,000,’” Musial recalled.
On May 13, 1958, Musial became just the ninth player in history at that point to collect career hit number 3,000. He held that $100,000 pay level again in 1959, but suffered through a rough season – at least by Stan’s standards. Musial partially attributed it to “improper physical conditioning” exposed when he temporarily returned to the outfield for the first time since 1956.
Interestingly, while his 1964 bio notes that he accepted a lesser salary in 1960, $85,000, Musial did not say he initiated it, only that “I took a pretty good cut without complaint.”
A January 1960 article that originally ran in The Sporting News and is quoted in James Giglio’s book, Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man vaguely called the cut “self-inflicted.” Musial didn’t exactly confirm which side initiated the reduction when he told TSN at the time, “The Cardinals have been generous to me the last few years, so I thought I’d be kind to them.”
Either way, after securing his record salary, Musial graciously accepted less money in the twilight years of his career as his performance naturally waned. Then again, free agency was not an option in those days, either.
An application to today?
Though no one knows for sure, there are rumors that Pujols is seeking a record deal himself. Of course, the current peak to scale, Alex Rodriguez’ 10-year, $275 million deal, is exponentially higher than the one set by Kiner and the Bucs almost 60 years ago.
In this world of multi-year guarantees, unheard of in the 1950’s, there are many additional variables, including potential non-cash elements. Most importantly, there is the basic question of which record Pujols may want to break – average salary, largest amount in a single season, most years - or all of them.
Musial, too, once wanted to be the top salary dog and he got it. As noted in the earlier article, “The Man” also scuffled with ownership more than once over money, so readers should not be so quick to assume Pujols is markedly different. It is difficult to blame a player who is looking to be paid fairly in comparison to his peers.
On the other hand, if Pujols wants it all, he may forfeit his chance of surpassing Musial’s 22 Hall of Fame seasons while wearing the Birds on the Bat. If so, we would never get to see how Pujols might later choose to give back to those who supported him during his prime.
As we've been reminded time and time again, Musial is still delighting Cardinals fans to this day, almost half a century after his playing days concluded.
Where will Albert be in 50 years and how will he be remembered?
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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