Most young men who love playing and watching baseball games have at least one hero whom they admire and seek to emulate. I had several heroes during my Boy’s Club baseball playing days in the early 1950’s, but my absolute favorite was Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was affectionately known by all as “Stan the Man”, and he lived up to his nickname in almost every category one could name. One of the reasons I so admired Stan the Man was because my beloved Aunt Tooky was also from St. Louis, and she spoke often in glowing terms about what a good man and great baseball player he was. She did not know him personally but had several friends who did.
Aunt Tooky (Thelma Manne) was my Mom’s older sister and lived in St. Louis. She also was a hero to me because several years earlier she had arranged a private meeting for me with Roy Rogers. Because of her wealth and status in St. Louis she knew a number of dignitaries and could get things done which others couldn’t.. She lived alone in The Chase Apartments which were exclusive and very expensive apartments adjacent to the well-known Chase Hotel. She and Uncle Max had lived separate lives for at least ten years but had remained friends. The only explanation I was ever given concerning their marital status was, “They had trouble getting along”, and this satisfied my curiosity. I have written two stories of the impact Aunt Tooky had on me as a child, The Quality Grocery Store and Meeting Roy Rogers. During the months she lived with us in El Dorado while managing The Quality Grocery Store in the late 1940’s, I told her how much I admired Stan the Man and hoped one day I could meet him. This planted a seed in Aunt Tooky’s mind, and I knew she loved surprising me.
As my baseball playing career with the El Dorado Boy’s Club began flourishing in the early 1950’s my admiration for Stan the Man increased. I knew most of his playing statistics and easily quoted them with family and friends whenever conversations turned to major league baseball. This was at least ten years before the availability of televised games, and my information was acquired through newspaper stories, occasional movie news clips and very infrequent radio broadcasts of St. Louis Cardinal games. On one family visit to St. Louis in the summer of 1948 my Uncle Harry (Aunt Tooky’s brother-in-law) had taken me to a baseball game at Sportsman’s Park. I’m sure I sat there in wonder the entire nine innings with my mouth open while watching men play whom I had only read and dreamed about. I never thought about getting an autograph, because it would have been impossible with so many thousands in the stadium. I had never been in a stadium with 45,000 people which was double the number of people who lived in El Dorado.
During the summer of 1950 I was developing into a pretty good third baseman for Gulf Refining (El Dorado Boy’s Club), but we were not at our best and missed the play-offs that year. Mom wanted to make a week-long visit to St. Louis to spend time with Aunt Tooky and Aunt Ruth, her other sister who lived in St. Louis. It was her husband who had taken me to the Cardinal game two years earlier. I was excited to stay at Aunt Tooky’s apartment especially because she had a television set on which I could watch shows like Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, and Art Linkletter, It was the summer Aunt Tooky asked, “Would you like to meet Stan Musial?” She didn’t have to hear my answer, because she said she had a friend who would set up a meeting the very next morning. I didn’t know Stan the Man owned a restaurant when she said we would drive to his restaurant and meet him in the morning. It had to be a morning meeting because he had a game to play that night. I don’t remember sleeping much that night because I was so excited.
Aunt Tooky drove a Chrysler two door convertible and riding in her car with the top down was such fun. It compounded the whole experience. Mom didn’t go with us so I could get the full impact of such a momentous occasion. she had an attorney friend named Arnold Kovin who was good friends with Stan, and he arranged the meeting.
Stan co-owned a well-known restaurant named “Stan Musial and Biggie”s, and it had opened about a year prior. “Biggie” Garagnani was an experienced restaurateur who knew adding Stan Musial as a business partner would only mean greater success. Aunt Tooky knew exactly the location and drove straight there to keep the ten AM appointment in front of the building. As she pulled into an empty parking spot at exactly the appointed time he was standing out front. He was dressed in a suit which was out of character for me, because I had only seen him in his Cardinal uniform as pictured above. As I stepped out of the car, he said, “You must be the young ball player from Arkansas,” while extending his hand to shake my hand. I don’t remember one thing else he said because I was in such awe of this celebrity who acted as if he wanted to meet me. I do remember his kind and gentle manner as he looked into my eyes and handed me a new baseball in its’ own case. He said something like he was glad to meet me and thanked me for being a Cardinal fan. His parting words indicated he hoped to see me again soon. It all happened so fast the next thing I remember was riding back to Aunt Tooky’s apartment looking at this treasure I held. As I opened the box there was a new baseball inscribed, “To John Henry Best Wishes Stan Musial.” Had I been given the Hope Diamond I don’t think I could have felt more wealthy.
Aunt Tooky had come through again. First Roy Rogers and now Stan Musial. In my childish amazement I considered her ability to make dreams come true to be unlimited. I couldn’t wait to get back to El Dorado to show my baseball buddies what a celebrity I had now become.