By R.B. FALLSTROM
ST. LOUIS — The entrance to the Cathedral Basilica looked more like that of a St. Louis Cardinals game on Thursday, just the way Stan Musial would have liked it.
Thousands of fans turned out for Musial’s public visitation at the ornate Roman Catholic church, many of them bundled up against the bitter cold in red Cardinals jackets. Musial, a 24-time All-Star who remained a beloved figure in his adopted hometown a half-century after his playing career ended, died Saturday after years of declining health. He was 92.
Family, close friends and perhaps some of baseball’s biggest names will be back at the cathedral for a funeral on Saturday. Thursday was for the fans.
Hours before the event began, hundreds lined Lindell Avenue leading to the steps of the cathedral. Just an hour into the six-hour visitation, 1,400 people had arrived, according to a woman keeping track.
When a bell chimed once as the doors opened, 68-year-old Evelyn Bourisaw, dressed in a red coat, exclaimed, “Time to play ball!”
Among the first to go in were Audrey Kissel, 86, and Erma Bergman, 88. The two were kindred spirits of Musial, not only of his generation but also former ballplayers. Kissel played second base and Bergman pitched in a women’s professional league during World War II.
Rope lines moved mourners toward the open casket. Musial was dressed in a red blazer and a Cardinals necktie. His harmonica was in the front pocket.
Retired car salesman Bill Sanders, 64, was like many fans, as taken with Musial’s good-natured ways as his considerable baseball prowess. Sanders noted that not once in a 22-year career did Musial get tossed out of a game.
“He was a true gentleman,” Sanders said. “He even liked the umpires.”
Certainly his baseball accomplishments were plentiful: a .331 lifetime average, seven NL batting titles, 475 homers and 3,630 career hits (1,815 at home and an equal number on the road). He helped the Cardinals to three World Series championships in the 1940s and another after his playing days ended — he was general manager of the 1967 team that beat the Red Sox in seven games.
The GM job was short-lived, but Musial was a frequent figure at Busch Stadium, showing up for most opening days and many postseason games, sometimes playing the harmonica, always striking a pose of that unusual left-handed batting stance.