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11/17/10 6:10 PM EST

Musial to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Life, career of Cardinals icon marked by highest civilian honor

Long known as the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial will be receiving an even higher honor: he's going to be recognized as one of the greatest Americans of them all.

Musial, who turns 90 next week, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. It is the country's highest civilian honor, along with the Congressional Gold Medal. The Medal of Freedom is given for "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States or to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

"It's so well-deserved," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He's such an amazing, remarkable man, professional and everything that it's very exciting and it's well-deserved."

A date for presentation of the award has not been announced. Musial was one of 15 recipients named on Wednesday, the second group that President Obama has recognized since he took office in January 2009.

"On behalf of all of Major League Baseball, I am truly thrilled that The White House has honored Stan Musial with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, joining other legends of our game like the great Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Buck O'Neil, Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson," said Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. "Stan Musial is an extraordinary human being, a great American and one of the best players in the history of the game. He has long been a treasure of St. Louis, but he represents all the best of our national pastime. Today, our game salutes Stan Musial on this highest honor from our country."

"We are very grateful that President Obama will award Stan Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom," Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr. said. "Not only is Stan one of the greatest players to play the game of baseball, he is also an extraordinary American deserving of the nation's highest civilian honor."

Bill DeWitt Jr., the Cardinals' principal owner, was delighted by the announcement.

"It's terrific," said DeWitt, who is in Orlando for baseball's Owners Meetings. "It's a great honor for him. I called him today and congratulated him. It's the highest civilian honor. He was obviously pleased. He deserved it. He's been an exemplary ambassador for the game and he's been a great public servant since he's formally gotten out of baseball. Of course he never leaves it. But he's one of those unique individuals who has contributed so much."

Tributes poured in from throughout the country and especially the Bi-State area on Wednesday.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said in a statement:

"Stan Musial is the greatest Cardinal ever. And even better, he has been the kind of role model that America longs for. He has always cared about his community, his country, his fans and his teammates much more than he cared about his own glory. On behalf of millions of Missourians, I couldn't be prouder that the President has chosen to recognize our hero with the Presidential Medal of Freedom."

The announcement is the culmination of the Cardinals' "Stand For Stan" campaign, which was designed to raise public awareness of Musial's life and career and to convince the president to present Musial with the honor. Among those who participated in the campaign were Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, the state's two U.S. Senators, McCaskill and Kit Bond, and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

"We stoked the fire a little bit, but there was some traction to his candidacy anyway," DeWitt said. "It was a fun campaign. It got people involved. But we had good support from political leaders, Senators Bond and McCaskill, Durbin, all very supporting. It was well worth the effort on everybody's part to make the President aware of what Stan has done."

Said Bond in a statement: "No more fitting honor for baseball's perfect knight."

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, of Missouri's Ninth District, said in a statement: "Stan Musial is not only a baseball legend, but also a St. Louis treasure. On behalf of St. Louis Cardinal fans in Missouri and across the world, I would like to congratulate my boyhood hero, Stan Musial, for being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for what he has contributed to our state and our great national pastime."

In a 22-season Major League career, Musial established himself as one of the greatest hitters of all time. He batted .331 lifetime with a .417 on-base percentage and a .559 slugging percentage. Musial hit 475 home runs, amassed 3,630 hits, 1,951 RBIs and scored 1,949 runs, and was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player.

Musial was a 24-time All-Star selection (for a portion of his career, two All-Star Games were played per year). He won seven batting titles and led the NL in doubles eight times, runs five times, hits six times, triples five times, RBIs twice and total bases six times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first season of eligibility, receiving more than 93 percent of the vote to enter in 1969.

And he did all of that despite missing the 1945 season to serve in the Navy in World War II.

Yet in St. Louis, it's not only Musial's accomplishments that make him so beloved. He's widely recognized as one of the game's greatest gentlemen. And as a lifetime Cardinals player and still a St. Louis-area resident, he's prized as a civic icon. Musial still makes occasional appearances at Busch Stadium, most recently at a "Stand For Stan" day on the final weekend of the 2010 regular season.

"As the years have gone on, we've really worked at trying to make sure that the young guys especially had a real understanding of the history of what they're getting themselves into," La Russa said. "Stan's an important part of that. ... So I know that everybody's worked really hard to preserve that part of our history. And it's not just Stan, but Stan's certainly a great example."

Musial was born in Donora, Pa., in 1920 and signed with the Cardinals as a pitcher in 1938. He was, of course, converted to an outfielder in the Minor Leagues, after which it took him less than two full seasons to reach the Majors. Musial made his debut with the Cardinals on Sept. 17, 1941.

The next year he was a mainstay for a World Series-champion club, starring as a 21-year-old rookie for the Cards' first pennant winner since 1934. Musial batted .315 and slugged .490 for the '42 Cardinals, ushering in one of the franchise's greatest eras. The Cards won the pennant again in '43 and won the World Series in '44 and '46. They finished three games behind the Cubs in '45, not coincidentally the year Musial was away in the service.

From 1943-54, Musial played only one season in which he hit below .330, and his combined line over that remarkable 12-year peak was a .346 average, a .434 on-base percentage, a .591 slugging percentage, 990 walks and 349 strikeouts in 1,682 games.

Even after his peak, Musial remained a force, making the All-Star Game in every season he played and earning MVP votes as late as 1962 -- when he was 41 years old. He never played on another postseason team after 1946, but still finished as a three-time World Series winner.

After his retirement, he served briefly in the Cardinals' front office, including working as the team's general manager during its 1967 World Series championship season. He's a father of four and has been married to Lillian "Lil" Musial since 1940.

"Stan the Man" met President Obama briefly at the 2009 All-Star Game at Busch Stadium. The president threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and the two greeted one another on the field.

Musial becomes the eighth baseball player to win the Medal, and the first since O'Neil in 2005. The others are DiMaggio (1977), Robinson (1984), Williams (1991), Clemente (2003), Aaron (2005) and Robinson (2005). Other winners from the world of sports include Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Bear Bryant, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and John Wooden.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.