(Check out our other player card posts here.)

Stan Musial is among the most talented and accomplished players to ever set foot on a Major League Baseball diamond.

And very few men who have ever played the game are held in higher regard on a personal level than Musial. By all accounts, Stan the Man was classy and dignified across the board.

How, then, could a man who broke into the Majors with the St. Louis Cardinals at age 20, hit .315 in his first full season at age 21, and won the National League batting crown and MVP at age 22 have had to wait five full years to see his first baseball card issued?

And when that rookie card did make its way into the world, how could it be considered mere propaganda?

Well … like most all of us, Musial was a product of and influenced profoundly by the time period in which he lived and played, even as he himself helped define that time period.

1946 Propagandas Montiel Stan Musial

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Musial signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent before the 1938 season when he was just 17 years old.

He played 26 games that summer for the Williamson Colts of the Mountain State League, batting .258 with one homer. He spent 1939 in Williamson (WV), too, raising his average to .352 in 23 games.

Then, in 1940, Musial saw his first extended professional action, batting .311 in 113 games with the Daytona Beach Insiders of the Florida State League.

Finally, in 1941, Musial clawed his way out of the Cards’ developmental league and split his 141 minor league games between the Class C Springfield Cardinals and the Double-A Rochester Red Wings.

His .359 batting average and a whopping 29 home runs were enough to get the call from St. Louis, and Musial made his Big League debut on September 17, 1941.

Now, that trajectory and especially the rapid uptick at the end of his minor league run, would have earned Musial a quick hit or 10 of fresh cardboard.

But this was 1941, and there were a few factors working against anyone who had designs on acquiring a Stan Musial rookie card:

  • The United States was still clawing its way out of the Great Depression, and there wasn’t yet a great appetite for trivialities like baseball cards.
  • Much of the rest of the world was already embroiled in the battles that would boil into World War II and pull the U.S. in by the end of the year. Folks were nervous, and materials of all sorts were already being guarded for use by the military.
  • Baseball cards weren’t really a thing yet, at least not in comparison to the hobby that would develop 10 years later as bubble gum makers Bowman and Topps ramped up their rivalry.

Check out the PSA Population Report, and you’ll see that there were just a few sets issued each year in the late 1930s and into the 1940s when Musial was starting to make noise. There just weren’t that many opportunities for players to snag a hunk of cardboard real estate, and even the “major” sets like Play Ball (72 cards) and Goudey (33) had small checklists.

1946 Propagandas Montiel Stan Musial (back)

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Musial’s best bet was to get himself featured in a team-issued set, and the Cardinals happened to be one of just two teams with such a release in 1941 (the St. Louis Browns were the others). Not surprisingly, though, the late-season call-up was omitted from the 25-card issue.

With the U.S. fully involved in the war by the spring of 1942, Musial’s cardboard prospects grew even dimmer. The obscure Editorial Bruguera issue is the only entry in PSA’s listings for the year.

Similarly, 1943 brought just one baseball card set, the R302-1 M.P. & Co, and Musial didn’t make the cut even though he picked up his first MVP award that summer.

While PSA lists four sets for 1944, those issues provided zero opportunity for a Musial card, as two of them featured Hall of Fame plaques and the other was a set of New York Yankees stamps.

As World War II entered its final year, baseball cards were nearly non-existent in 1945. Only two regional, team-based issues made it to the surface during a season that was also a wipeout for Musial on the field thanks to his service in the Navy.

So, as 1946 dawned and Musial prepared for a return to the St. Louis Cardinals, his career numbers looked like this:

455 games, 584 hits, 36 home runs, 135 doubles, 44 triples, 23 stolen bases, .344 BA, .423 OBP, .539 SLG, 1 NL MVP award, 0 baseball cards

But all that was about to change.

On the field, everything came together as Musial moved into his absolute prime years.

In particular, he led the league in the following categories: games played, plate appearances, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, batting average, slugging percentage, total bases.

Not surprisingly, Musial won his second MVP award that year, easily besting teammate Enos Slaughter and Dixie Walker of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

After 154 games, the Cards and Dodgers were tied in the standings, which forced a best-of-three playoff series, which St. Louis took in two:

Then it was on to the World Series, where the Cardinals took the final two games to down the Boston Red Sox, four games to three.

And there was more …

Because, that year,  as the world began to dig out of the rubble of World War II and with the shadows of the Cold War already beginning to gather, baseball cards started to rumble back to life.

While PSA lists only three sets in its 1946 Population Report, we know that plans for more were gaining steam because that number balloons to 15 in 1947.

And those three sets weren’t really the end of the 1946 baseball offerings, either. If you flip over to the multi-sport section of the Population Report, you’ll find a single listing — Propagandas Montiel “Los Reyes del Deporte”. Roughly translated into English, that’s Montiel Advertising “Sporting Kings.”

That’s a lot of words to label a set of sports cards, but for our purposes, we’ll just stick with Propagandas because it’s so appropriate for the times …

The propaganda-fueled Nazi regime had fallen just a year prior.

The Cold War was in its infancy, with plenty of propaganda from both sides on the horizon over the next 45 years.

And the Propagandas cards were produced in Cuba, where Fidel Castro would become a propagandameister within a generation and rule the island nation for more than 50 years.

1946 Propagandas Montiel Jack Johnson

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Now, back to the cards themselves …

The Propagandas were printed on thin paperstock and packed with pieces of caramel, rendering most surviving copies a condition mess. But the presence of some huge names in the sporting world keeps vintage collectors hunting down the cards year after year.

Among the 180 cards on a checklist that includes players from the Florida International League and the Cuban League are greats from professional baseball, wrestling, and boxing — Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Gene Tunney,  Jack Dempsey, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Louis, and on and on and on.

And there, on card number 64, between Stanley Hack and Mel Ott, Stan Musial makes his first baseball card appearance.

After five glorious years in the Big Leagues, Stan the Man finally had his rookie card.

In stark contrast to the hype surrounding today’s players, Musial’s performance on the field outdistanced any propaganda(s) about his prowess by a country mile — and half a decade!

(Check out our other player card posts here.)