ST. LOUIS -- A native St. Louisan who grew up the son of a baseball executive, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. had a relationship with Stan Musial that spanned generations.
After more than two decades of working with the Cardinals, DeWitt's father, William O. DeWitt, left the organization to become the general manager of the St. Louis Browns, the city's second baseball franchise at the time. But as Bill DeWitt Jr. recalled on Sunday, the family's shift in team allegiance never diminished their friendship with the Musials. As a result, DeWitt had the opportunity interact with the Cardinals legend several times during his youth.
"He was great to kids," DeWitt said, a day after Musial died of natural causes at the age of 92. "A kid couldn't come up to him that he wouldn't give them an autograph, even unsolicited. He was great that way. I think that term, 'accessible,' says it all."
DeWitt, who graduated from college the same year Musial closed his career, was able to watch Musial in person with regularity at Sportsman's Park, which, for several years, served as the home for both the Browns and the Cardinals. During Musial's 22-year career in St. Louis, "The Man" won seven batting titles, three Most Valuable Player awards and helped lead the Cardinals to three World Series titles.
"We're not the same Cardinals without Stan, that's for sure," DeWitt said. "The Cardinals have a tremendous following, in large [part] because of Stan and the other great players that have been through here."
It was the man that DeWitt got to know off the baseball field, though, who was equally as grand.
"[Stan was] someone who, in the sports world, was that good and exceptional ... who also had that personality and genuineness and accessibility. That package is pretty hard to come by," said DeWitt, who became the organization's principal owner in 1996.
Of all his Musial memories, DeWitt said he thinks his favorite is of the day he and Musial traveled to Washington, D.C. to be on hand for the 1997 commissioning of the USS Cardinal minesweeper. Upon their arrival, Musial was asked if he had time to sign a few autographs.
He answered by asking how many naval personnel were on the ship. When he was told the figure, he asked that someone bring him that many baseballs.
Everyone on the ship got a Musial autograph that day.
"That was incredible," DeWitt recalled. "You see players today that are top players, even, that are somewhat stingy with autographs -- trying to maintain value or for whatever reason. Stan could care less about the value of his autograph. Whoever wanted it, he'd give it to them to make them happy."