Jason Giambi used three titanic blasts into the right field stands at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark to turn back the clock for at least one game. In addition to the three homers, which doubled his season’s hit total, Giambi also knocked in seven runs, becoming one of a select few to accomplish each feat over the age of 40.
By joining the list of 40-somethings who have homered three times in one game, Giambi entered rarified territory shared only by Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Stan Musial and Babe Ruth. At one time, Giambi also seemed destined for Cooperstown, but the combination of a late career breakdown and the stain of performance enhancing drugs has all but ensured that he won’t be joining those others in the Plaque Gallery.
Like the Bambino, the “Giambino” had never before belted three homers in a game. Also like the Babe, Giambi’s accomplishment came amid what seems to be the waning days of his career. When Reggie belted his third trio of long balls, he was still a regular with one year left in the tank, but he too was on steady path toward retirement. Musial, however, was still going strong when he went deep three times against the Mets on July 8, 1962.
Three HR Games at 40
Seven RBI Games at 40
When Musial victimized the hapless Mets, he was not only months from turning 42, but also in the midst of yet another MVP-caliber season. Entering the game, Stan the Man was hitting .325/.395/.476, leaving some to wonder if he’d ever slow down. “I don’t want to give that boy any ideas,” Mets’ manager Casey Stengel observed, “but the way he’s hitting he can hang around in this business two or three more years easily”.
Musial’s outburst against the Mets came on the heels of a homerun in his last at bat of the previous night’s game. So, after homering in his first three plate appearances the following day, the Cardinals’ legend was able to add yet another record to his already crowded mantle.
Despite going deep in four straight plate appearances, Musial was more interested in talking about the result of his last at bat in the game. With a chance to hit four homers and five in-a-row, Musial struck out on a wild pitch. “Yeah I looked terrible on that one,” Stan the Man told reporters. “The only time I tried for a homer today was the time I looked bad”.
Musial’s anxious swing not only cost him a chance at further legend once, but twice. After reaching first base on the wild pitch, Cardinals’ manager Johnny Keane used Bobby Smith to pinch run. Considering the inning and 12-1 score, it seemed like a sensible decision, but the Cardinals sent eight men to the plate in the ninth. As a result, Smith, not Musial, took the Cardinals’ last at bat of the game.
Musial’s three homeruns were the perfect lead-in to the 1962 All Star Game. After adding a single in the mid-season classic, Stan the Man picked up right where he left off, going .327/.428/.493 over the second half and finishing 10th in the MVP voting. Maybe Stengel was right?
Unfortunately, father time eventually caught up with Musial the following year. Before the start of the 1963 season, the Cardinals’ icon expressed optimism about playing two more years, but also noted that when he could no longer perform up to standards, he would retire. So, although his performance was solid enough to stick for another year or two, the legendary player decided to call it a career.
Many Yankees’ fans will probably make note of the circumstances surrounding Musial’s retirement because of the parallels that can be drawn to the team’s aging veteran stars. However, it should be noted that in 1959, at the age of 38, Musial had one of his worst seasons, batting .255/.364/.428 (OPS+ of 105), which even for the era wasn’t very impressive for a first baseman. In fact, 1959 was the only season in which Musial had a negative WAR. Luckily, Stan the Man didn’t walk away at that point because he followed up with three more valuable seasons.
For 73 years, Stan Musial has been synonymous with the St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps more than any other player, he has been the ideal ambassador for his organization. Such relationships are few and far between, but the Yankees have that opportunity with Derek Jeter. Both the organization and the player would be wise to learn from how the Cardinals and Stan the Man handled his twilight years because it would be shame if someone isn’t writing about Jeter’s timeless connection to the Yankees 50 years from now.