The list of things that have been bypassed, never properly celebrated or mourned over the past seven months is long, and there’s another one for the list: the 100th anniversary of Stan Musial’s birth.
Musial was born on Nov. 21, 1920, in Donora, Pa., but he became synonymous with a baseball career, and a post-baseball life, spent in St. Louis. But after big plans were made to celebrate the milestone anniversary for Musial, who died in 2013, at this year’s Musial Awards for sportsmanship at Stifel Theater (which by total happenstance fell on his birthday), they had to be scrapped because of COVID-19. The show will go on, only in a much-reduced manner.
Instead of the annual awards presentation at Stifel, which was to include Hank Aaron getting a lifetime achievement award and NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace being honored for extraordinary character, there will instead be a Best of the Musial Awards show that will air Saturday night on KSDK.
However, an event planned for Busch Stadium on Saturday had to be canceled due to concerns over the increase in COVID-19 cases in the region and states of Missouri and Illinois.
Instead, a drive-through birthday parade will be held starting at 1 p.m. Saturday. Anyone can participate in the parade, which will travel north on 8th Street past the Musial statue and Busch Stadium.
The Musial family will be at the statue during the parade to greet well-wishers, and birthday cards are encouraged, although people are required to remain in their cars.
It is nothing like what the sports commission had wanted to do, but organizers didn’t want the milestone to pass uncelebrated, even if the party couldn’t be as big.
“We wanted to make it accessible and low risk and make it fun,” said sports commission president Frank Viverito. “The drive-by birthday celebration is free to everybody, the TV show is free. We’re still trying make it memorable and fun and all those things. It’s the best we can do under certain circumstances.”
That the 2020 Musial Awards were supposed to fall on Musial’s 100th birthday was a total coincidence. Six years ago, the sports commission chose the Saturday before Thanksgiving for their annual show, because it was after the baseball season ended but before holiday travel became a nuisance and the proximity to Thanksgiving seemed like a good fit for honoring sportsmanship. It was only then that they looked at what those dates actually were, looked at Musial’s date of birth and added 100 that they discovered that the stars had aligned for Musial’s 100th birthday.
“The minute we had realized what we had done,” said Viverito, “that was the milestone for having the greatest celebration of sportsmanship ever. We were thinking about it in those terms for years. As the reality began to set in over the spring and summer that we would not be able to have that moment, it was tough for all of us, having to give up our dream, if you will. That’s the piece that we lost.”
Aaron, one of the few baseball players who can match Musial’s production numbers, has said he will come in 2021 if he’s able to – he’s 86 – but the delay in the ceremony forced the commission to scrap one of the plans they had for this year: Getting as many Hall of Famers as they could who had played against Musial to attend. It’s turned out to be a tough year for Hall of Famers, with six dying, including four who were contemporaries of Musial: Al Kaline, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford. (Joe Morgan played a few games in 1963, Musial’s last season, and none against the Cardinals.)
“The most special thing was going to be that moment on stage with Hank Aaron and the Musial family,” Viverito said. “Knowing the depth of the admiration that Hank Aaron has for Stan Musial and the Musials have for Hank Aaron, and bringing to life those stories of Stan and Hank together that was going to be the culmination of 100 years of Stan and the celebration of 100 years of Stan.”
Next year, the Saturday before Thanksgiving is Nov. 20, so the 2021 Musial Awards will be handed out the last day of his 100th year, the day before he would have turned 101. So what had been dubbed the Stantennial will be Stan 101.
“We will now shift our focus after this year, making next year everything that this year would have been,” Viverito said. “Sportsmanship and Stan Musial are enduring, and we’re going to keep going with it. … We have some fun ideas and hope to bring them to life in 2021. We really hope we’re through this by next November.”