Wheaties couldn’t have “sparked up” with a better man than Stan
When Stan Musial wore street clothes rather than a St. Louis Cardinals baseball uniform, he looked like “the boy who really did eat his spinach and Wheaties, and did grow up to be a hero,” wrote a sports columnist more than 50 years ago.
“Stan the Man” not only ate his Wheaties, he was a central part of 1940s and 50s Wheaties’ cereal print campaigns.
This baseball season begins without Musial, who died in hospice care of Alzheimer’s complications this January at age 92.
Wheaties couldn’t have asked for a better person to sell its product.
It was an era when athletes, and particularly baseball players, were paid to promote Wheaties. But Musial was featured on more than just the box.
Musial’s cartoon likeness would appear in full-color panels in comic books, in which he would tell kids to “Spark up with Wheaties.”
There were full-page, color cartoon advertisements that featured “Stan the Man.” Wheaties-sponsored two-page spreads of photographs of Musial and his family. And, of course, he was on the back of the Wheaties’ box.
The Hall of Famer’s baseball credentials were envious. He was a.331 hitter in a career that spanned three decades. He missed an entire season at age 24 because of military service.
Away from the field, he was a Ping-Pong playing, ballroom dancing, harmonica-blowing perpetual smile.
And reluctantly known for his generosity.
Musial was an aspiring 19-year-old pitcher with an arm injury and an unsure future when a manager in Daytona Beach named Dickie Kerr helped Musial make the transition to a line-drive hitting outfielder.
Kerr is better recalled for being on the 1919 White Sox. The team became known as the Black Sox after eight of its members were banished from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series. Kerr refused to join in, and won two games in that Series.
It was no secret that the Musial’s first son was named for Kerr. The big secret was that when Kerr died in 1963, it was in the house in Houston that Musial had bought for the Kerrs years earlier. Musial deplored the newspaper article that made the information public, apologizing that it had come to light.
“We had only wanted to help our friends. They were so good to us,” he said.
Born in a Pennsylvania mill town in 1920 to a 5-foot-7 Polish immigrant father and an athletic, 6-foot mother, Musial grew to be a lean 6-footer who was playing pro ball while still in high school.
His father wanted Musial to attend college, but Miss Klotz saw it differently.
When Musial was an established, 25-year-old star in 1946, he recalled, “There was a kind, brainy lady in the library at Donora (Pa.) High, and her name was Miss Klotz. Nobody was more aware of the advantages of college than Miss Klotz. Nobody was more aware of the financial handicaps of our kind of folks than Miss Klotz.
“I could play basketball, football. I pictured myself something of a campus hero at Pitt.
“But I did not want my father in the steel mill forever, seeing me through college. I went to Miss Klotz and said, ‘I want you to steer me.’”
Klotz told him, “Stanley, you go into baseball. You will make good.”
“That’s why I never got to Pitt, and am playing first base for the Cardinals,” Musial said.
Musial was ahead of his time as an athlete guiding his own finances. He hired an agent. But not to negotiate his baseball salary. It was for those Wheaties-like deals.
“The agent handled endorsements for me and Ted Williams and Sam Snead. We’d pick up an extra twenty-five to thirty thousand a year from these things,” Musial recalled 20 years ago.
Musial saw no need for help with the simple process of negotiating his annual salary.
“It seems like everyone is in a business manner today,” Musial recalled to a sports writer in 1992. “Too serious. When we played the means of travel was slower and we spent a lot of time together on trains. We relaxed and had fun.”
Truth be told, when Musial was in a rare batting slump and needed to “spark up,” it wasn’t Wheaties that he recommended.
“I liked going to Boston,” he said. “Good lobsters and a weak pitching staff.”
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