I never formally met Stan Musial — except maybe for a casual handshake at a Cardinal Caravan years ago.

But growing up in Cardinal Country, where friends and colleagues traveled on many weekends to the old Bush Stadium/Sportman’s Park, the new Busch Stadium and the new, new Busch Stadium, I knew several who did.

I never heard a negative word, even from fans who were not Cardinal diehards.

From those fans I encountered, he never refused an autograph, sometimes furnishing a folded $1 bill with it.

Some friends had sons or daughters who would write fans letters — and would receive not only an answer but an autographed picture.

I knew people who would walk up to him during an appearance and he always seemed to have time.

I knew people who dined at his restaurant in St. Louis and who did not know Musial personally but were blown away when he would visit their table and engage in conversation.

In almost all ways, Stan Musial was the perfect template for what we want a a star athlete (and idol) to be — excellence and amazing consistency on the field, wonderful connection with fans and loyalty, his demeanor masking his greatness. They rarely make ‘em like that anymore.

He batted .300 or better six straight seasons, appeared in 24 All-Star games, seven World Series, was part of three World Series champions and earned three MVP awards. He never struck out even 50 times in a season.

It’s appropriate that "The Man" nickname was given by hated rivals of the Cardinals — Brooklyn Dodger fans.

Consistency? He had 1,815 hits on the road and 1,815 hits at home — a symmetrical achievement probably unmatched in sports.

During his career, he was overshadowed in legend and peformance by Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle — but never in class and character.

He was never ejected from a game and always introduced himself to opposing catchers who were rookies. He played 22 seasons for the same team without a hint of scandal and had the same image in retirement.

He was a champion (during his prime and in retirement) in about every way you can categorize it.

And one of the best descriptions of his degree of excellence came from fellow Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, one of the greatest and most unhittable pitchers of the era. On handling Musial, Spahn said he would have to have total focus, then, he said he’d throw him his best pitch. Then, he would run and back up third base.

No athlete had a more appropriate moniker, "The Man."

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)