In Henry Aaron's first All-Star game in the early 1950s, the future home run king met a baseball player known to many simply as "The Man." It was very early in the desegregation of America's past time, and it was also very early in the Civil Rights era. As the story goes, a group of African-American baseball players, all of whom who'd spent most of their careers limited to the Negro leagues, were sitting at a table playing cards. Stan Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, just went over to them, sat down, and said, "deal me in."
Deal me in.
Those words simply erased any racial or social barriers and said more about civil rights than hundreds of white politicians could ever hope to convey. And they meant the world to a young Hank Aaron; those words, that tacit olive branch, were also the beginning of a lifelong friendship between two of the greatest sportsmen to ever play. Sportswriter and columnist Ben Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recounted that story today in his column on the passing of Aaron this weekend at the age of eighty-six. Aaron notes that those words were Musial's way of saying "I’ve looked beyond racism and everything."
These two men maintained a genuine bond the rest of their lives, and nearly every story about them acknowledges that as great as athletes Musial and Aaron were, they were equally good men of character and integrity. "I've always had him in my heart," Aaron said of Musial.
May we all aspire to live, and to play, with the grace and the class of Stan Musial and Henry Aaron.