St. Louis Cardinal great and Baseball Hall-0f-Famer Stan Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama yesterday. You may wonder what this has to do with Lewes history or our collections.
In addition to items about Lewes, we also keep mementoes kept or collected by Lewestowners and a special one in our collection is a napkin autographed by Stan Musial that reads “To Bill Clifton Best Wishes, Stan Musial.”
While we unfortunately don’t know when the autograph was made out to Mr. Clifton, we can make some educated guesses. First, we do know that Bill Clifton was a big baseball fan and played on Lewes’s amateur team for several years. He is seated front and center in a c. 1932 Lewes community baseball team picture in our collections and which has been run in the Cape Gazette‘s “Cape Region History in Photographs” section. Clifton possibly collected the signature at the ball park (perhaps when St. Louis was in town playing the Phillies) or at another chance encounter.
A second theory posits that Musial may have been in Lewes during a roadtrip that included Philadelphia. While Lewes was a 120+ mile one way journey for ball players, it would make a pleasant day trip (especially on an off day) for fishing, beach going or, as was popular with several major-leaguers, a trip to the old town for some fresh fish at the Anglers’ Club or the great spaghetti and meatballs at Lou Ianire’s Restaurant and Lounge, where Phillies’ greats Richie Ashburn and Chris Short (a Lewes High School graduate) were known to frequent. That the autograph was given on the back of a napkin, to some, lends credence to this theory. While it is exciting to think Stan “The Man” pulled up to the bar at Lou Ianire’s, we alas have no definitive accounts of his being in Lewes.
Stan Musial, according to http://baseballhall.org/hof/musial-stan, “After 22 years as a Cardinal…ranked at or near the top of baseball’s all-time lists in almost every batting category. The dead-armed Class C pitcher was transformed into a slugging outfielder who topped the .300 mark 17 times and won seven National League batting titles with his famed corkscrew stance and ringing line drives. A three-time MVP, he played in 24 All-Star games. He was nicknamed The Man by Dodgers fans for the havoc he wrought at Ebbets Field and was but one home run shy of capturing the National League Triple Crown in 1948.”
Bill Clifton, meanwhile, operated a successful newsstand in Lewes on Second Street between Savannah Road and Neils Alley in what is now the Society’s Old Doctor’s Office museum until the a devastating fire struck the downtown business district December 31, 1970.
More information about Lou Ianire’s Restaurant can be found in The Journal of The Lewes Historical Society Vol. VI, “Fine Dining in Lewes, pp. 12-13, by Ruth Mankin.
A clip of Musial receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama is included below.