There are many special sporting traditions in the city of St. Louis, but what stands chiefly among them is the Musial Awards, an evening dedicated to honoring the legacy of the great Stan Musial. The event is a collage of selfless determination, outstanding achievement and overcoming the odds in all areas of the web of the sporting universe.
The annual event, staged by the St. Louis Sports Commission and held at the Peabody Opera House in downtown St. Louis, was held on Saturday November 22nd, hosted by longtime area broadcaster Mike Bush. A virtual sports and culture variety hour, the event was kicked off with a dynamic display of artistic talent from performance artist David Giraibaldi, who wowed the crowd by creating in real-time a portrait of Musial set to a musical backtrack. Shortly thereafter the 12 honorees that were gathered for the evening took their turns in taking to the stage, as tributes to their specific accomplishments preceded them.
Soon it sets in just how impactful these stories truly are. Among these uplifting accounts are the story of Josh Zuchowski, a nine-year old swimmer who gave away a championship trophy to a fellow competitor who was hospitalized with a mystery illness in the hopes of helping his spirits.
There was semi-pro golfer Jason Millard, who pulled himself from a dream opportunity of competing in the U.S. Open golf tournament after officials missed a foul that he committed—but he caught and his conscious wouldn’t let him accept.
For a group honor, there was the Olivet Youth Football team, who called an audible mid-game to give a developmentally challenged teammate a chance to not only get in the game, but score a touchdown as well.
There were many other just as notable stories, but undeniably in a show that carries the namesake of The Man himself, it was only right that there be a strong baseball influence on the evening. There was David Belisle, the Little League coach whose impassioned speech to his freshly defeated—and understandably downtrodden—team in this year’s Little League World Series inspired not just his players, but the nation at large. Belisle highlighted all of the good things in sports that can come from outside of just victory, but the positivity of teamwork and competition.
“Heads up high, heads up high,” he said during the speech that brought him such inspirational notability. “There’s no disappointment in your effort, in the whole tournament, the whole season. It’s been an incredible journey. We fought….we came to the last out. We didn’t quit. That’s us boys, that’s us! The only reason why I’ll probably end up shedding a tear is because this is the last time I’m going to coach you guys.”
It was a memorable speech that set the tone for a night of memorable stories.
One of the most unforgettable figures of the year came in the form of a young lady that stood head and shoulders above most boys she faced. The summer’s breakout star of the Little League World Series, 11-year-old Mo’ne Davis, was the first of two highlight honorees on the evening. Her overwhelming effort in propelling her Philadelphia-based team through the tournament captured the nation’s attention. Despite such wide spanning acclaim not only for her phenomenal performance, but also at leveling the perception of girls in a traditionally male inhabited sport, she kept an unassuming, selfless grace that belies her age.
Always ready to deflect the sole light of the spotlight on herself, she gave full credit to her team for her notoriety. “If it wasn’t for my team, I wouldn’t be here right now,” she reflected. “I have great teammates and we just have fun playing together.”
Davis was honored with the Musial Award for Extraordinary Character on the evening. And in a year that has seen her reap a plethora of different recognitions, she explained that this one held a special significance as well due to the fact of what she learned about Musial after being notified that she received the honor. “I saw his numbers and what he did and it was like why wouldn’t I be here for this,” Davis said, to a raucous ovation from the crowd.
She revealed that while baseball is the sport that she is most noted for, it is basketball that truly moves her focus the most. She expresses a desire to go on to play for Gino Auriemma’s esteemed University of Connecticut women’s basketball team one day as its starting point guard. And since the awards show took place, she did indeed make another noteworthy step in her young career, as she made her future high school’s basketball team—as an eighth grader.
The headliner of the event was a very familiar face for the area. Former Cardinal player/manager and baseball luminary Joe Torre returned to town to receive the first ever Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship. Active in the game for over 50 years, the baseball “lifer” looked at his varied career as an All-Star and Most Valuable Player, as well as his success as a manager and executive, which included the heights of winning four World Series titles with the New York Yankees.
Being back in St. Louis, it was also a prime opportunity to reflect on both his times as a member of the Cardinal organization, as well as times he spent with Musial himself. Torre looked back at the first time he played against Musial, which was during his final season, and broke down calling an at-bat as a young catcher for another future Hall of Famer, Warren Spahn.
He looked back on the struggles that Spahn had facing Musial over his career, which was indeed the case as the great southpaw faced Musial more than any other batter in his career, and Stan carried a .326 average against him lifetime. He recalled Spahn dipping down to throw to get a pitch past Musial sidearm—which Stan simply adjusted to and hit a line drive up the middle that glanced off of Spahn for a base hit. He laughingly recalled Musial passing by the mound after being pulled for a pinch runner and checking on the frustrated (and likely fairly sore) pitcher on his way back to the dugout.
Torre also went into detail on what it was like to spend time away from the diamond with Stan, which he did once he reached the Cardinal organization. This included once taking a trip with him and his wife Lil to see Luciano Pavarotti in concert and having the great tenor sign a baseball for Stan, which surprised the singer, but he graciously complied.
Yet a major part of the story was centered on Torre’s mission with his Safe at Home Foundation, which is geared toward providing an outlet within schools for youths with troubled situations at home. This was spurred from Torre’s own rough situation growing up within his home in Brooklyn, New York and trying to help reverse the negative outcomes of such an environment. This involves funding a designated area within the schools in the New York/New Jersey area called “Margaret’s Rooms”, named after Torre’s mother.
This combination of legacy and experience moved Musial’s daughter to heavily supporter her father’s friend as a worthy recipient of the first Musial Lifetime Achievement Award. “It is such an honor to have Joe accept the very first Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Jean Musial-Edmonds. “Joe represents so many of the values my father embodied and I know my dad would be so proud to see their names connected through this award.”
And while Stan did not have the privilege of meeting any of the other awardees on the evening, it is safe to say that the sentiment would carry over to them as well. And the generous legacy of Musial will continue to be ever-present for years to come.
The Musial Awards will air at 7 p.m. on KSDK-TV Newschannel 5 on Friday, December 19th and will be re-aired on Christmas Day at noon.