By Tim Bross
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Hall of Fame baseball player Stan Musial, who used an unorthodox batting style to become one of the sport's greatest hitters in 22 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, died on Saturday at age 92.
Musial, adored by fans for his humility and easy-going manner as much as his baseball skill, died of natural causes at his home in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, according to his grandson Brian Schwarze.
Known in the baseball world as "Stan the Man," Musial had suffered from Parkinson's disease and age-related dementia, Schwarze said.
"We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family," William DeWitt Jr., chairman of the Cardinals, said in a statement. "Stan Musial was the greatest player in Cardinals history and one of the best players in the history of baseball."
Once a pitcher in the minor leagues, Musial became one of baseball's greatest all-around players and was named to the All-Century team in 1999. He reached the majors in 1941, and by the time he retired in 1963 had won three Most Valuable Player awards and been on three World Series championship teams.
Musial finished his career with a .331 batting average and batted over .300 for 17 of his seasons in the league.
He totaled 3,630 hits, 475 home runs and 1,951 RBIs in 3,026 regular-season games. He played in 24 All-Star games and was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, in 1969.
Musial was born on November 21, 1920, in the coal-mining town of Donora, Pennsylvania. His father was an immigrant from Poland, and Musial would later serve as an unofficial U.S. emissary to Poland.
Musial grew up poor and his first toy was a baseball, he said during his admission to the Hall of Fame. He began playing semi-pro baseball at age 15 and was also a top high school basketball player.
Musial signed a professional baseball contract in 1938. He had to give up being a pitcher due to a shoulder injury.
Concentrating on playing the outfield and hitting, he developed a corkscrew swing - coiled with his back almost facing the pitcher as he peeked around his shoulder - that became one of the most unique swings in Major League Baseball.
ONE OF BASEBALL'S 'TRUE LEGENDS'
Musial, who missed the 1945 season at the prime of his career as he served in the U.S. Navy during the last year of World War Two, also played a role in the integration of baseball by openly supporting Jackie Robinson when he broke the racial barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement that the sport had lost "one of its true legends" in Musial, and that his life as a player, military veteran and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient "embodies baseball's unparalleled history and why this game is the national pastime."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America's highest civilian honor. When President Barack Obama gave the award to Musial in 2011 at the White House, Musial wore a sport coat that was bright red, the color of his old team.
"Stan remains to this day an icon, untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate," Obama said at the ceremony.
Current and past members of the St. Louis Cardinals took to Twitter to praise Musial.
"Sad to hear about Stan the Man," All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday said in a tweet. "It's an honor to wear the same uniform. Prayers to the Musial family."
Musial said after retiring from baseball in 1963 that he regretted not going to college, and he encouraged young players to do so before beginning their professional careers.
After retirement, Musial often held court with fans at his St. Louis restaurant. He was an accomplished harmonica player and on many occasions would play "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
Musial's death came on the same day as that of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, who led the Baltimore Orioles to four American League titles and a World Series championship. Weaver was 82.
Musial was 19 when he married his hometown sweetheart, Lillian "Lil" Labash. She died in May 2012. Musial is survived by his four children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)