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07/14/09 10:00 PM ET

Musial part of special moment at Classic

Cards great hands ball to Obama after entering field on cart

ST. LOUIS -- In this baseball-mad city, there's a pecking order. You have the current Cardinals. Further up the line, you have the Hall of Famers. And above them all is The Man.

Stan Musial towers over baseball in St. Louis. He's the greatest Cardinals player there has ever been, a beloved figure not only for his skill on the field but for his grace, dignity, charm and wit off it. It's his statue that stands at the main gate of Busch Stadium, and it's his career against which all other Cardinals are measured.

So it was fitting that prior to the first All-Star Game here since 1966, Musial was honored on the field. The Hall of Famer rode in from right field on a cart to thunderous applause from the crowd at Busch. He handed a baseball to President Barack Obama, and Obama threw a ceremonial first pitch to Albert Pujols.

It was a brief moment of recognition for Musial, who is now 88, but a memorable one for everyone in attendance, including Pujols. Even after nine years of brilliance, Pujols marvels at Musial's career -- especially "The Man's" 24 All-Star Game appearances.

"Unbelievable," Pujols said. "Hopefully I can have half by the time I retire. That's unbelievable. That will tell you the kind of player that he was and the numbers that he has put up in the game. His numbers speak for themselves. I don't really need to speak for him. It's unbelievable, to stay healthy and play for 24 years, to keep himself in shape for 24 years is just amazing."

Musial doesn't move around as well as he used to, and his visits to Busch Stadium and Spring Training are less frequent than they once were. And it's safe to say he's missed.

"I wish we could have him around more, because I would just pick his brain about hitting and experiences that he had in this game," Pujols said. "That's something that I tried to do two weeks ago, and we didn't have the time. ... You need to enjoy these moments when he's around."

And it's not just Cardinals who appreciate Musial's presence.

"To meet people like that, it's just incredible," said Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson. "It's an honor to meet someone of his stature."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.