• Sal Maiorana

Stan Musial considered himself a singles hitter, but he hit 5 HRs in a doubleheader

ST. LOUIS (May 2, 1954) – Nate Colbert, a slugging first baseman who played for the San Diego Padres in the 1960’s and 70’s, was a wide-eyed eight-year-old sitting in the stands at newly-refurbished Busch Stadium watching his beloved Cardinals take on the New York Giants on this day 66 years ago.

Colbert had come to watch his favorite player, Stan Musial, and the boy’s hero gave him quite a thrill as he set a major-league record by swatting five home runs during the course of St. Louis’ doubleheader split with the Giants.

It wasn’t the thrill of Colbert’s life, though, because 18 years later Colbert matched Musial’s feat by hitting five homers as his Padres swept a doubleheader from the Atlanta Braves.

Musial and Colbert remain the only two men in history to have accomplished this feat, but Stan the Man will always carry the distinction of being the first to do it.

“I’ll never cease to wonder how I ever managed to do that,” Musial said years later. “To think that I hold such a slugging record, a singles hitter like me. That’s a record that rightfully should belong to men like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ralph Kiner and the other sluggers.”

Musial was the son of a Polish immigrant who worked near Pittsburgh in a wire mill. As a boy Musial constantly had a glove on his right hand, and he knew very early in his life that Western Pennsylvania factories were not for him. He wanted to play baseball for a living.

“I can’t remember when I wasn’t playing ball,” Musial said. “It seems like I was always playing ball.”

And he played marvelously. He was equally adept at pitching and hitting and he signed his first pro contract in 1937 at the age of 17, before he had graduated from high school. It paid him $65 a month. Years later, in 1958, he became the first National League player to earn $100,000 per year.

Musial caught the eyes of Cardinals scouts with his pitching, but eventually, his batting prowess is what progressed him through the minor leagues.

It was at spring training with the Cardinals’ double-A Columbus club in 1941 when manager Burt Shotton – after watching Musial whack a bunch of balls out of the park – told him, “Son, when the regular players come in here, you hit with the regulars. From now on, you’re an outfielder.”

Musial was assigned to double-A Springfield and batted .379, moved up to triple-A Rochester and hit .326, and he reached the majors in the final month of that 1941 season. He went on to play 21 years (he missed the 1944 and ‘45 seasons while serving in the Navy) and when he retired in 1963, his 3,630 hits were an all-time National League record.

Thanks to his distinctive crouched batting style – which Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons once likened to “a kid peaking around the corner to see if the cops are coming” – Musial’s resume included seven batting titles, two RBI crowns, and three MVP awards.

The Cardinals retired his number and erected a bronze statue of him in front of the new Busch Memorial Stadium, where they had moved to in 1966. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.

Colbert was one of 26,662 spectators on hand at the old Sportsman Park - which had been renamed Busch Stadium the previous year – who saw Musial walk in the first inning of the opener and later score as the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead against Rochester native Johnny Antonelli. In the third, Musial deposited an Antonelli fastball onto the roof of the pavilion in right field to make it 3-0.

After the Cardinals fell behind 5-4, Musial hit a two-run shot onto the right-field pavilion roof, and he added a three-run blast to almost the same place that highlighted a game-winning four-run rally in the eighth for a 10-6 St. Louis victory. In between his last two homers, Musial singled in the sixth.

In the second game, Don Liddle walked Musial in the first inning and retired him on a fly ball in the third as the Giants built an 8-3 lead. Hoyt Wilhelm relieved in the fifth and Musial hit a two-run homer that helped get the Cardinals within 8-6, and then his record-breaking fifth homer of the day cut the St. Louis deficit to 8-7 in the seventh. That one flew over the pavilion in right, but that was all the Cardinals had and they lost the nightcap 9-7, Musial popping out in his final at-bat in the ninth.

“I saw him do a lot of amazing things, so nothing he did really shocked me,” said Cardinals shortstop Dick Schofield. “But I was certainly impressed when he hit the five homers in that doubleheader. For all his greatness as a player, he was a super-nice man. He never treated anybody badly.”

Except opposing pitchers.

Musial finished the day with six hits and two walks in 10 plate appearances, nine RBI and 21 total bases.

“Stan was such a nice guy that I was probably happy for him when he homered off me,” Antonelli said years later. “He didn’t have an enemy in the world. I remembered that he had played in my hometown of Rochester with the Red Wings on his way to the Cardinals and in my youth, that had been one of our city’s claims to fame.”