Stan Musial and Earl Weaver couldn't have been much different in some ways, or much more alike in others. What these two sides of baseball's coin of competitive passion definitely had in common is that they were true icons, not only for their franchises but for the game itself.
The two Hall of Famers were unique fixtures in the game, and their passing on the same day Saturday dealt a double-dose of sadness to the sports world, perhaps not as much for lives cut short as out of reverence for lives devoted to baseball at the very highest level.
Saturday became the first day in history a pair of Hall of Famers passed away on the same day, with word in the morning of former Orioles manager Weaver's death at age 82 followed in the evening with the announcement that Cardinals legend Musial had passed away at age 92. Previously, the shortest time span between the deaths of Hall of Famers was three days in 1971, when Heinie Manush's passing on May 12 was followed by Goose Goslin's death on May 15.
The news Saturday made for a uniquely reflective January day for any baseball fan who understands the impact each of these men had on the game in very different ways -- different from each other, and different from anyone else. That they happened to pass away on the same day shouldn't rob one iota of respect and appreciation from either. Certainly, their legacies each are large enough to deserve appropriate commemoration.
These were two of the brightest stars in their respective fields -- Musial's hitting and Weaver's managing. While Musial marched consistently through 22 stellar seasons and beyond with a smile on his face, a powerful bat and the heart of a champion, Weaver's fiery personality and scientific mind ahead of its time often provided epic dirt-disturbing explosions on the field. Talk about opposites: Nobody played more games without an ejection than Musial with 3,026, and no American League manager had more ejections than Weaver with 97.
Both, however, were true geniuses at their craft for decades, even if their intensity manifested in different ways.
For this one day, at least, it's hard to separate the two in the baseball mind's eye -- the visions of the Orioles' No. 4 dusting up a storm, and images of the Cardinals' famous No. 6 on the back of a corkscrew left-handed swing, punctuated with a big grin.
As Saturday began, word circulated that Weaver had passed away, and that his death came suddenly, after an apparent heart attack on a cruise ship. Response from Baltimore, of course, was immediately forthcoming, heartfelt and mournful. And from the Commissioner's Office to Cooperstown to fan fests around the country, the response was the same.
"Earl's managerial style proved visionary, as many people in the game adopted his strategy and techniques years later," Commissioner Bud Selig said of Weaver.
Orioles chairman of the board and CEO Peter G. Angelos said in a statement released by the team, "This is a sad day for everyone who knew him and for all Orioles fans. Earl made his passion for the Orioles known both on and off the field."
For all of baseball, the day became even more sad a little before 8 p.m. ET, when the Cardinals announced that Musial had died, his family by his side at his home in Ladue, Mo. This, too, was a particularly painful blow to one particular franchise and city -- the Cardinals and St. Louis.
"We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family," said team chairman William DeWitt Jr.
But it was a loss felt deeply throughout baseball, too. Aside from being one of the very greatest hitters of all time with rarefied power and efficiency at the plate, "Stan The Man" was one of the most friendly and engaging ambassadors the game has ever seen. He was a proud one-team man who wore his Cardinals colors with a smile well into his later years -- always dapper in the bright red sport coat aboard a red golf cart at Busch Stadium and always charming with his harmonica tooting out "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in Cooperstown.
"Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game, with his many successes on the diamond, the passion with which he played, and his engaging personality," National Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said.
And so it was with a deep sense of reverence Saturday that baseball said goodbye to not just one but two iconic figures, different snapshots of competitiveness but among the very best at their craft.
Another thing these two men have in common: They not only excelled and stood out even among baseball's elite, but they also had the good fortune to have received recognition for that accomplishment. They were shown appreciation for their wisdom and greatness during their long lives, down to the final day.