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Stan Musial: An American Life
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon April 8, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I first started following professional baseball as a boy in 1969, six years after Stan Musial, Cardinal outfielder, first baseman, and hitter extraordinare, retired from the game. But as I listened to Pirate games on the radio, the Pirate announcers would still occasionally talk about Stan Musial whenever the Bucs would play the Cardinals, in respectful ... almost reverential tones. As I continued to learn about the game and some of its past heroes, Stan Musial, in my young mind, achieved near-mythical status, similar to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, and others. It also didn't hurt that he was also from Pennsylvania, only an hour or so from where I grew up.

As such, he's always been one of those ballplayers that I wanted to know more about. I knew about his statistics ... 3630 hits, .331 lifetime batting average, 475 home runs (in an era when 400 home runs really meant something), 3 Most Valuable Player awards, and so on, but I wanted to learn more than just the stats. So, I was happy to see this biography, "Stan Musial, An American Life", by George Vescey (a well known New York sportswriter, and the older brother of NBA analyst and sportswriter Peter Vescey).

The book isn't quite what I was expecting. It fully covers Stan's life from birth until today, and is full of anecdotes from his friends, families, and quotes from Stan, and attempts, with great success, to show how the boy he was developed into the man he is, warts (surprisingly few) and all. Where the book differed from my expectations is that while baseball is a central theme in the book, there is surprisingly little descriptive baseball in it. By that I mean, Mr Vescey will spend a page talking about a season and whether it was a good year or a bad year for Stan, and perhaps any salary discussions, but it doesn't often talk about specific games or series, or baseball minutia. Mr Vescey instead has anecdotes about Stan's life both inside and outside of baseball, anecdotes from competitors from that timeframe, and/or quotes from friends and family. As such, this book is more a straight biography than a sports biography, and once I realized that, I found that I enjoyed the book even more.

Mr Vescey is clearly a great admirer of Stan Musial, and has done an outstanding job of capturing, describing, analyzing, and summarizing his life. He notes early on that, unlike some of the other stars from Stan's era (Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, to name two), Stan's stature and accomplishments seem to be receding from popular memory rather than growing, and surmises that it may be because Stan was so accommodating and gracious ... he wasn't a surly, yet supremely talented hitter, like Ted Williams, and didn't marry movie stars and act distant to the world like the great Joe DiMaggio. Stan was approachable, genuinely caring about his fellow man, and so remarkably consistent as a ballplayer, that he wasn't perhaps as interesting to a populace that seems to prefer flawed heroes.

If you're looking to learn more about Stan the man (pun intended), I highly recommend this book.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Growing up as a very young child in New York in the 50s and early 60s, I was taught by my father, grandfather and aunts and uncles about the great baseball teams in New York at that time. Most of the family were Yankee fans. I grew up with talk of Gehrig, Rush, Dimaggio, Dickey and then current Yankees such as Mantle, Skowron, Ford, Martin, Bauer and Berra. When talk turned to other teams, it was usually the Giants or the Dodgers. I learned about Mays, Snider, Reese, Hodges, Robinson, Sal "the Barber" Maglie and greats like Ott, McGraw and Matthewson. The only other ballplayers I ever heard about were Feller (my dad saw him no-hit the Yankees), Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

Feller was respected (although I do not remember seeing him play) as was Williams. Williams was considered aloof and worst of all - a member of the Boston Red Sox. This is a biography of Stan Musial by New York sportswriter George Vecsey. He (Musial) was universally loved by my family and respected - for his play and his demeanor.

This book covers Stan from his modest childhood in Donora, PA. to his receiving the Medal Of Freedom from President Obama in February of this year. It obviously covers Stan's great career with the St. Louis Cardinals (one of the best in baseball history) and is full of non-baseball anecdotes which entertained and also educated me. Stan's business ventures are covered as well - and while I knew of the feud with another famous ballplayer - I now know why.

I had no idea what the "Donora Death Fog" was until this book. How hundreds became ill and over a dozen died in industrial smog in 1948. Stan's home town. You will learn about how his childhood experiences molded him to become, arguably, one of the more under rated Hall Of Famers of the 1940- early 1960s (when compared to Mantle, Mays, Dimaggio, Williams, Berra, Koufax, Snider etc.). Had Stan Musial played in New York - he'd have been a deity. The respect held for him by his opponents was such, that he was named to the Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame (yes, that's correct).

Stan has known Popes, famous authors (James Michener), politicians (Jack Kennedy) and actors or actresses (Angie Dickinson). The book made me laugh aloud in sections, and appreciate what a good human being this man appears to be both on the surface, and below it. He also has his flaws - and they are pointed out as well. This isn't a glossy "Puff" book. Even the respect Albert Pujols holds for Stan is explained. The anecdotes are great. The stories around Jackie Robinson are illuminating as well.

Most of the Amazon Vine books I've read haven't grabbed me, or interested me. Either I don't get good choices or I'm picking the wrong books. Happily, this is not one of those - but a really superb biography of a great American icon. This is a must read for St. Louis Cardinal fans and baseball fans in general. As a biography reader, it's one of the better one's I've read in the last decade over MANY areas of focus (history, sports, science, pop culture etc.). A good fun read. **** 1/2 stars. (I would have preferred deeper baseball discussions/stats/pennant discussions etc.).

Highly Recommended.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really wanted to love this book. Though Stan Musial's playing days were long over when I began to learn about and love baseball, he was one of those greats whom I heard about when reading baseball histories and biographies. I especially wanted to like this book because the author, George Vecsey, has an obvious love and respect for his subject, Stan the Man, the Donora Greyhound. Unfortunately, Vecsey's writing leaves much to be desired. It is a times hokey, disjointed, and hardly what one would expect from a celebrated New York Times Sports Columnist. The biography flits around a bit too much as well. There are long chapters followed by one page chapters. If you are looking for a literary biography of Musial akin to When Pride Still Mattered: Lombardi, you will be sorely disappointed. This book has more of the flavor of a bunch of various anecdotes strung together. There isn't a wholeness to this book or integration like Maraniss' seminal biography of Lombardi. Certainly, I came away with a deeper appreciation for Musial and all he was and stood for but, simply put, the writing just is not that good. I pushed through less because the book engrossed me and more because I felt I needed to finish it to give a fair review. I will say that my overall assessment of the book was slightly better at the end than it was about a third of the way into the book. But that being said, if I could do half-stars I would give this a 2.5 rather than 3. Obviously, my assessment differs from most of the other Vine Reviewers, so take it with a grain of salt. But I still am convinced that this book is a disappointment.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 23, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the first book I've read about Stan Musial - "Stan the Man" of St. Louis Cardinals' fame. I was pleasantly surprised; George Vecsey is a talented author who clearly knows and loves baseball. Not only that, his writing style is compelling and interesting. This was an enjoyable book from cover to cover.

There are only two small reasons why I gave this book four stars instead of five. First, some of the chapters are only two pages, which made for a choppy story line. Second, some of the chapters are not in chronological order, so it is confusing at times to jump around in Musial's life. However, these two things don't take away from the content - they just make a good book a little harder to read.

In summary, I'll recommend this book to friends of mine who are baseball fans. You won't get every statistic and detail of Musial's life and career, but you will get a broad overview it - an overview that will no doubt convince you that Musial was indeed one of the best all-around players baseball has ever seen.

NOTE: I reviewed this book following the terms of Amazon's Vine Program.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was excited to read this book after having read biographies of baseball greats like Cobb, Hornsby, Ruth, Williams, and even Durocher. I knew a little bit about Stan the Man's career based on his numbers, but not much about his life. All I knew is that he was adored and respected by pretty much everyone who ever met him.

This book explains why. It describes his humble beginnings in Donora, Pennsylvania and how he ended up on the great Cardinal teams of the early 40s. It then describes his career, his time in the military during WWII, his postwar career, and what he did after retiring from baseball. Roughly two-thirds of the book describes his playing days with plenty of anecdotes thrown in. Perhaps the most interesting was the story of the 1946 World Series against the Red Sox and their mercurial slugger Ted Williams. The latter third of the book describes his life after baseball.

After all the other biographies I've read I had the desire just to spend a little time with the subjects to ask them some questions. It would be great to have seen those other men flash a little bit of the charm that they could summon when they felt the need. But when I read this biography I came away with the sense that Musial is someone I would just want to be with and hang out. Vecsey gets into a few unpleasant stories about Musial, but those occupy maybe 4 out of the 340 pages of this book. It is overwhelmingly positive and I never got the sense that Vecsey hid anything.

I think that is the major problem with this biography. Musial is basically a boring guy, which is what makes him so incredibly special. The other biographies had subjects who were larger than life, which made their biographies very compelling. The only thing larger than life about Stanley was his incredible ability to hit and to be gracious to just about everyone he ever met. Reading about that makes this book worthwhile, particularly as he aged so gracefully.

I would give this book five stars, but I found the writing style to be very uneven. There are some chapters that are just a few paragraphs. Most biographies are a narrative with some occasional sidebars. This one lacks continuity as it follows a few rabbit trails. It feels like the author had a lot of good stories to tell, so he simply arranged them in roughly chronological order. To be sure, the stories are all excellent. In fact, the vignettes are some of the strongest chapters. It just comes across feeling like a rough draft that needs an editor to knit it all together.

Nevertheless, this is a book worth reading if you want to learn about one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game. He was overshadowed by DiMaggio and Williams his whole career, but this book does a good job of getting the spotlight on a man who deserves it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Vecsey's biography of Stan Musial definitely fills a void in baseball history and attempts to establish the Cardinal legend's proper place in the lofty echelon of baseball's historic elite. Musial is, without a doubt, deserving of the generous praise Vecsey bestows upon him; page after page of this biography chronicles Musial's integrity, his affable nature, his keen moral sense, his devotion to his family and to the Cardinal organization, his generosity, and--above all--his passion for the game of baseball. This book also provides a great deal of information about the history of the sport--especially during the time of racial integration--and paints a rather unflattering portrait of some of Musial's colleagues and bosses, namely Joe DiMaggio and Branch Rickey. Overall, Vecsey has written a comprehensive chronicle of Musial's life as a player and as an underappreciated cultural icon.

What Vecsey hasn't done, however, is provide any truly critical context for Musial--this book will suffice for casual fans of the game who simply want to know more about Musial's playing career and his life off the field during his playing days and afterwards, but for the hardcore fan or true students or historians of the game, this book falls short. If it's penetrating critical insight you seek, you'd best look elsewhere. Perhaps the book suffers most from Vecsey's lack of access to Musial. Although the author draws upon numerous sources--including many of Musial's family members and contemporaries--all of the information that comes from Musial is second-hand, culled from existing biographies, newspaper accounts, etc. Vecsey acknowledges that he was never able to discuss his project with Musial--mainly due to Musial's distrust of biographers and his declining health--but one can't help thinking that the book would have been that much more valuable and informative if the main subject--Stan the Man himself--had contributed more directly.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I agree with those reviewers who have pointed out that Vecsey injects himself into the narrative too much, almost like it's his memoir, and apparently chose not to treat this as a more straight-forward biography.

I found "Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial" by Wayne Stewart to be a much better book.

What does it say about Vecsey's book that it was published by ESPN rather than a well known publisher?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I can't deny the book is gripping because Stan Musial's life story is a good one indeed. But I am really surprised to find Vecsey's writing so poor. He is full of facts, has done the research and interviews and he clearly relishes his subjects - both the man and the game. But his work is disjointed, full of redundancies and the language is dull and witless. Page 132 - They rushed to Penn Station to catch the overnight train to St. Louis, for their date with the Red Sox and Ted Williams." Then a page later on 134 - "That afternoon, in Brooklyn, the Cardinals had won the playoff against the Dodgers, and now they were en route to their appointment with the Red Sox." Many anecdotes are loose threads left hanging from the ratty fabric that is this book - and the reader is left wanting more detail, more continuity, more readability. I am guessing Vecsey is a fine columnist, comfortable with a page or two - maybe an essay. If this book is any evidence, he is not much of a storyteller. I appreciate his effort to raise Musial's profile to its deserved status. But in the end, I choose Roger Kahn any day.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 1, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Stan Musial is one of those players that many baseball fans "know about", but really have no specific knowledge of what his career was really like. So what do we know? He was an Outfielder with the St Louis Cardinals? Check. Saw his greatest years in the 1940's and '50's? Check. Hall of Famer, one of those players that you'd consider in the "inner circle" of baseball greats, and an all-around nice guy? Check, check, and check. Ok, but what else? Was he a big homerun hitter or did he hit for a prodigious average or knock in a bunch of runs or steal a lot of bases or was he a whiz in the field? Who knows - all most of us know is the name Musial and that he was a great ball player.

So that's the background reference point I had on Stan Musial before picking up this book. Although not a hard core historian, I know my way around the Hack Wilsons, Clete Boyers, Sam McDowells, Christie Mathewsons, Lefty O'Douls, and others and Musial was always one of those players that I knew a little bit about but wanted to know more. So with all that in mind, "Stan Musial: An American Life" was a huge - even gigantic - disappointment. The author, George Vecsey, is obviously a huge fan - the Prologue in the book shows that. He obviously has this great background knowledge of Musial the player and the man and could probably shoot out off the top of his head Musials career homeruns, the years he won batting titles or MVP's or went to the MLB All-Star game, or the year he retired or was inducted to the Hall of Fame - all the stats that a true fan has rummaging around in their heads on their favorite players.

However that's sometimes the problem with people who know their subject so well - they sometimes assume that everyone else does too. It's like if you went to Anaheim to visit a friend and he takes you to obscure attraction after obscure attraction. When you are about to leave he asks you about your stay and your response is: "All I wanted to do was go to an Angels game and spend a day at Disneyland - why couldn't we have done that?" and his response is "I've done that a dozen times - I wanted to see something different..." That's what this book is like. It seems to me that Vecsey knows his subject so well that he strove to tell Musial's story from a different angle - something new and different "for him". Unfortunately the innocent reader picking up the book doesn't realize that he isn't really getting a book about Stan The Man. He's getting a book about the industrial history of southwestern Pennsylvania. He's getting a book about a Donora High School teacher. He's getting a book about the St Louis Worlds Fair. He's getting a book about Cardinal/Dodger GM Branch Rickey. He's getting a book about Cardinal/Met Keith Hernandez's dad. And so on.

So the book that Mr. Vecsey has written is Musial's life as told by the people and world around him and while it eventually gives us a somewhat foggy, often biased, picture of Musial, it is done with such a haphazard way that I was often left wondering "what does this have to do with Stan Musial?" - only to finally understand the point later in the chapter. While a biography told by the characters/places on the periphery of the subject is maddeningly incomplete as it is, what is really frustrating is how Vecsey jumps from subject to subject, era to era, and voice to voice with no clear direction and seemingly no sense of chronology or clarity. While some of the chapters start by clearly relating who are the actors and what is the focus of the text, others leave you wondering for pages who is being referred to or even who is talking in the quoted text.

All added together, the book made for a massively frustrating read. Baseball books are not generally read for scholarship - they are read for enjoyment and to unwind/relax from the work day/week. If the reader is instead focusing so hard on what is being said and striving to interpret the text to divine the overall point, I really think that the author has failed as a storyteller. Although interesting at times, this collection of miscellaneous anecdotes on Musial just doesn't cut it. I wish it did...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Vescey's new book on Stan Musial is not so much a linear biography as it is a mosaic of The Man's life and times. It initially shuttles back and forth in time and place, laying a tile here and a tile there for the first 50 or so pages before settling into a more or less chronological order as it presents its snapshots from Musial's life.

Closely following on the heels of last year's Stan the Man: The Life and Times of Stan Musial, which I have not read, it seems more interested in building upon interest in this amazing, but often overlooked giant of the game than in opening any new windows into his life. As a ballplayer, he had few equals. As a man, Musial comes across as decent, gracious, thoughtful and kind - both on the field and in his life off, and after, it. He comes off as almost entirely admirable. There are only vague hints at any real complexity to the man. Virtually everyone speaks highly of him, often repeatedly.

This makes for a terrifically rewarding real life, but as the subject of 300+ pages, it makes for a rather two-dimensional companion. It is a difficult task for an author: to paraphrase (poorly), all happy families are alike; all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. As a personality, Musial seems to have been admirable, but after a while, not all that interesting.

It makes for a conundrum of sorts for the reviewer, too. Certainly the book is interestingly put together - the mosaic style keeps it lively. It is well-written and well-researched. Along those lines, Musial is the rare sports star who is attended by nary of whiff of scandal or controversy - the sort of man who recognized his stature in the game while recognizing that he played a game. We could all aspire to be more like him in many ways.

He just isn't all that fascinating to read about past the first 200 pages. What a world...
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