1940, Bill Givens, Daytona, Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Islanders, Dickie Kerr, Florida State League, George Vecsey, Hall of Fame, Jackie Robinson Ballpark, St. Louis Cardinals, St. Paul's Church, Stan Musial, Stan the Man
When I was a kid, my stash of baseball cards included one of Stan “The Man,” whose card I prized with my cards of Duke Snider, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle. Musial went on to win seven batting crowns in the National League; he was voted onto the All-Star team a record 24 times (a record that still holds); and he stands as one of the greatest hitters of all time. Yet when he played in Daytona in 1940, he was a pitcher.
Musial came into Daytona with a strong arm, but when he wasn’t pitching, he often played the outfield here in what was later renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark; and it was here that Musial took a dive to catch a line drive to the outfield and injured his pitching shoulder so badly that it helped him to win his way into the Hall of Fame.
Today we all mispronounce Musial’s name, giving it three syllables, but he and his family pronounced it as MEW-shill, and this lanky 6-foot lefthander’s father spoke mostly Polish, calling his son “Stashu” (short for Stanislaus); but Stanley, who struggled with a stammer, enjoyed being called “Stash” by his teammates.
It was after the 1937 season, while still a junior in Donora High School twenty-eight miles from Pittsburgh, that Musial signed a contract for $65 to play a short minor league season for the St. Louis Cardinals system, and because the season had already ended, the seventeen year old was permitted to play basketball that fall with Musial leading the team to a record of 11-1 in the league games. Then in the spring of ’38 Musial played high school baseball, slugging a 388-foot home run and batting .455 as an eleventh grader, and two years later he was pitching in Daytona.
On his way to Daytona, in 1938 Musial pitched a lackluster first season with 6 wins and 6 losses and a high 4.66 earned run average (ERA) for the Williamson, West Virginia, Class D team of the Mountain State League. Then in ’39 he returned to the minor league team, missing his high school graduation, and won 9 while losing only 1 game, but his ERA was still 4.30. His future, though, should have been seen as in his bat because he hit .352.
That fall of 1939, on his nineteenth birthday, November 21, Stan and his young girlfriend married secretly, and when she joined him in Daytona in the early spring she was visibly carrying their child, but because the marriage had been kept secret they married (again) on May 25, 1940, in Daytona Beach’s St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, now officially a basilica.
Musial was embraced by Daytonans, and a week after his marriage the fans chipped in to give him a wedding present of $23.71, which may sound rather small, but that was about a week’s pay for Musial, and in the Morning Journal a local jeweler was advertising a new pair of engagement and wedding rings, each with “3 sparkling diamonds,” for $39.50 which could be paid for at a dollar per week.
Musial’s arm was at its best in Daytona, powering him to an 18-5 record, his best ever, and the best win-loss percentage that year in the Florida State League; and his ERA was an eye-opening 2.62, but the roster was small so manager Dickie Kerr played Musial in the outfield on his “off” days.
We get a glimpse of the world of baseball in 1940 by considering that Jiggs Donahue, the manager of the Hollywood Chiefs of the Florida East Coast League, was fined and suspended for four days “for use of obscene language in a game.”
These bygone days of the Florida State League sported the Sanford Seminoles, St. Augustine Saints, Ocala Yearlings, Gainesville G-Men, and names of players such as Soddy Groat of the Leesburg Anglers, Alabama Smith and Spider Glamp of the Orlando Nationals, and the manager of the DeLand Red Hats– Redmeat Rodgers.
Life was tough for minor leaguers; for example, on May 23 the Daytona Beach Islanders’ bus broke down 15 miles from Ocala and the bus of the Ocala Yearlings had to come pick them up to get them to the game.
Games were played fast in those days. At least twice in the season the 9-inning game took only an hour and 36 minutes, and it was quite common for full games to take less than two hours. One 12-inning game took only 2 hours and 40 minutes, and even the 12-inning All-Star Game took only 2 hours and 29 minutes. Also, at least twice games were declared over because no inning was to begin after midnight, according to the rule of the National Association of Professional Baseball leagues.
Early in the 1940 season in Daytona, the Morning Journal was already calling Musial “the Islanders’ ace lefthander,” but control was always a problem for him; for instance, on May 6 although he struck out 9, he threw two wild pitches, one of them in the ninth inning with two men on base. When he wasn’t pitching, though, he was playing the outfield here at City Island Ballpark.
These were troubled times, and the Morning Journal headline of May 7 read “Nazis Attack Holland [and] Belgium,” but America was not yet at war.
The Great Depression was not entirely gone, and on June 13, 1940, the Morning Journal reported, “The Florida State League may not finish the 1940 season unless some generous-hearted sponsors with plenty of folding money step to the front and offer to angel about six clubs in the circuit. . . Attendance has been low at all ball parks throughout the league this season. A late spring and unseasonably cold weather was blamed for much of the failure of fans to support their teams.” St. Augustine had the best attendance, averaging about 450; and Daytona Beach was second with only about 350 per game.
Tickets in Daytona were 40 cents for Whites, 25 cents for African Americans, and 10 cents for children. “The average take at Daytona Beach is between $115 and $120,” and lights cost about $30 to $35 per game. Gate attendants cost $7, and baseballs cost $10 per game. The biggest costs, though, were for bus transportation, umpires’ pay, and salaries for the players, coaches, and managers. Daytona Beach and five other teams in the 8-team league had no outside financial support.
Loyal fans organized to buy fifty shares of stock in the Islanders (a total of $250), but the team was desperately near failing financially.
Even with these financial concerns, Musial was a star, and halfway through the 1940 season he had 9 wins and only 3 losses with an ERA of 2.93; but although he had 102 strikeouts, he also had 93 walks. His hitting was consistent, and in the July 24 game he had two doubles, a triple, and a single with 5 RBIs; and a couple of weeks later he matched that with two singles, a double, and homer.
The Islanders were 14 games out of first place on June 22, half way through the 140-game season, but they were the winningest team in the second half, taking the Florida State League pennant; and when Musial was voted onto the All-Star team he played centerfield.
It was here in Daytona Beach that Musial’s career took its pivotal turn in August near the end of the season when he made an aggressive dive for a line drive, crashing onto his pitching shoulder, a potentially career-ending injury, but through the season his bat cracked a .311 batting average for him in 113 games as an outfielder.
By late August with his injured shoulder, Musial was having greater trouble with wildness, and on September 3 in the fourth inning, he fielded a ball and threw it six feet over his third baseman’s head all the way to the scoreboard, and then he gave up two singles and walked the next batter, which loaded the bases. Then he allowed another single and walked the next batter, which loaded the bases again; and in the next inning he gave up five hits and was so wild that he walked four batters. By then he had struck out two and walked six. Yet although he got this loss, when he was replaced on the mound, Musial went out to play right field.
Even with his wildness he was the Daytona Beach Islanders’ ace lefthander, eventually winning 18 games, but his hitting was also impressive with a 20-game hitting streak that ended in mid-August.
Musial’s pitching was helped by Bill Givens, an Ormond Beach semi-pro catcher, a “husky backstop” who was hired locally to catch for the Islanders in 1940; and only two days later the Cardinals sent another catcher, but Givens never had to give up the plate (except for a sore arm for a few games) because he played so well, especially with lefty Musial and righthander Jack Creel, who became the winningest pitcher in the league.
Musial earned only about $100 a month while playing for Daytona in 1940, and baseball didn’t pay for an off-season, so he became a sales clerk in sporting goods at the new Montgomery Ward whose store manager, Willard Foley, was also from Musial’s hometown. Musial earned $25 per week–about the same as he made playing professional baseball here.
The next year, 1941, Musial reported to spring training with a sore arm in Hollywood, Florida, to be the batting practice pitcher for the Cardinals’ Class AA Columbus, Ohio, team, and he was worried that his career was ending. He even told team officials, “I’m not a pitcher anymore.” Musial was not yet 21 years old.
After spring training he was assigned to the Cardinals’ minor league team in Springfield, Missouri; and leaving his Daytona pitching days behind him, he showed himself to be the hitter he had become on the Daytona Beach Islanders, and in Springfield he began smashing home runs over the right field fence, “bouncing them off houses on Boonville Avenue.” In his first 87 games he hit 26 homers and 94 RBIs with a .379 batting average before he was moved to the Rochester Red Wings where he hit .326 in 54 games, ending the season and returning to his hometown, but he was immediately called up to finish the pennant race with the major league St. Louis Cardinals, smacking six hits in a doubleheader and racing across the plate to score the winning run. The New York Times story called him “the amazing rookie from Rochester.” Of course, we know that the previous season he was the amazing Daytona Beach Islander.
Wikipedia notes that the next year Musial’s Cardinals won the World Series, and the next year he “led the National League in six different offensive categories and earned his first MVP award.” His Hall of Fame career included making the All-Star team every year after that, setting the record of 24 All-Star games, playing for the Cardinals his entire career except for missing all of the 1945 season when he served in the U.S. Navy during World War Two.
Musial never forgot that spring of 1940 when his wife Lil joined him in Daytona, and the manager Dickie Kerr and his wife took them into their home to live throughout the season. This was a kindness the Musials repaid twice–once by naming their son Richard after Richard Kerr, and again 18 years later when Musial had been acclaimed one of the best hitters in the majors. In 1958 he visited Kerr who was then turning 65, and to repay Kerr’s kindness in Daytona, Musial told him to go pick out a birthday present–a new house.
“Stan the Man” earned a reputation in his years in the majors for never questioning any call that umpires made, not even with a shake of his head or a look of disapproval; and some umpires later admitted that if a pitch seemed a close call as a strike or a ball, they would sometimes give “The Man” the call.
For Stan Musial, Daytona was his true start, and this Hall of Famer’s career can be seen as beginning at City Island Ballpark when he was a Daytona Beach Islander.
To write this I used the following sources:
Jim Ryan. “Part Time Salesman.” The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg), 26 Mar. 1963, 13-A.
News-Journal (Daytona Beach), various editions, April to September 1940.
George Vecsey. Stan Musial: An American Life. New York, Ballantine, 2011.