Earlier this year, one of the most revered figures in St. Louis history died. If you are from the Midwest, or are a baseball fan of a certain age, you already know the person I’m talking about: Stan “The Man” Musial.
Describing his ball-playing abilities, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick called Musial baseball’s “perfect warrior” and “perfect knight.” A look at some of his statistics can explain why: he won the MVP award in 1943, 1946, and 1948; he had 3,630 career hits (and equal number away and at home), 725 doubles, 177 triples (wow), and 475 home runs; he had a batting average above the .300 mark for sixteen straight seasons; he had a career batting average of .331; he was never ejected from a game in his entire career; he won the World Series in 1942, 1944, and 1946; he spent his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals; and he played in 24 All-Star games. He also has some unique records such as five home runs in a double-header, and he hit six career home runs in All-Star game competition, a record that still stands.
But his appeal among his St. Louis fans extended much beyond his baseball-playing ability: he was clearly one of the good guys in life. He spent seven decades married to his high-school sweetheart, he never turned down an autograph request, and he was such a nice, humble guy that even Ty Cobb—a mean of a gun that didn’t like anyone—thought highly of Stan The Man.
To get a feel for what high-quality guy that Stan the Man was, I highly recommend that you watch this eulogy given by long-time sportscaster Bob Costas.
Why do I mention all of this? Even though Stan the Man was an excellent human being of high morals and posted the career baseball statistics that should rank him among the top ten or so athletes to ever play the game, he still never received anywhere near the adulation of Ted Williams Joe Dimaggio.
Boston and New York were much bigger markets, and Williams and DiMaggio had easily accessible statistics that could serve as synecdoche to enhance their legends—Williams batted over .400, DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak and married Marilyn Monroe. Stuff like that writes newspaper headlines. No sportswriter is going to take the time out of his day to say, “Yup, Stan Musial is still married to his high-school sweetheart” or “Look at that, Stan Musial signing another autograph for a teary-eyed fan outside the dentist’s office.” When you’re honorable and decent, and getting the small things right on a daily basis, there is going to be no one there to pat you on the back along the way.
When Stan Musial passed away, the anchors gave him a ninety second blurb and then quickly moved on to the next news story. This man—as big of a giant as DiMaggio and Williams—did not receive nearly as much attention upon his death because he did not possess the idiosyncrasies or superficial appeal of his larger market peers in New York and Boston. At the ESPY Awards in July, Chris Berman gave a three-second passing shout-out to Stan The Man before duly moving along. If Williams or Dimaggio died this year, there would have been a full-feature spread on the lives of those gentlemen at the ESPYs.
So why do I bring this up in the context of an investing website? Look, the whole idea of excellent is that you should expect it to be entirely internal, and if you get some outward recognition from some members of society at large, you should be thankful but not expect it. When you’re doing the small things right on a day-to-day basis, you don’t get gold stars and rewards for your action. When you get that first $100 dividend check from Procter & Gamble, there’s no fans cheering for you on the sidelines. When you build up a $10,000 emergency fund, there’s not going to be anyone blowing whistles. When you get that first $1,000 in MLP income, you’re not going to get hugs and kisses unless you have a romantic partner equally turned on by the cause.
People will ooh and aah when you buy a mansion, but they won’t do it when you buy 1,000 shares of IBM stock. People might want to roll with you on Saturday night because you bought a new Porsche, but you’re not going to find bar-hopping buddies that seek you out because you happen to own 1,000 shares of Anheuser Busch (unless you use the $2,210 dividend check to buy everyone else a round). You have to know, deep down, that you are working towards something awesome that will bring you satisfaction, because if you rely upon praise from others, you’re doomed.
That’s why it’s best to be satisfied doing your own thing. Yeah, it sucks that Stan Musial isn’t a national baseball treasure on the order of Ruth, Mantle, Williams, and so on, but I am lucky that I got to know the story of a man who may have been the most impressive of all of them, all things considered. If I didn’t know about Stan The Man’s life, it would have been my loss. That’s your job with your life—none of this stuff is about winning the affections of others. Rather, it’s about finding your own sense of internal satisfaction that comes with reaching your economic and social potential so that, if other people don’t become a part of your life’s story during your time on this earth, it’s their loss.