Donora is perhaps best known as the city where “smoke ran like water,” to use part of the title of a book by the University of Pittsburgh’s Devra Davis. The infamous Donora Smog, the air-pollution calamity that killed about 20 people in October 1948, is the Mon Valley borough’s greatest claim to notoriety.
More recently, Donora has become an emblem of the rust belt’s industrial decline and the social and economic dislocation in its wake.
But there’s more to Donora than bad air and bad luck. Donora also has been dubbed “the Home of Champions” due to it being the hometown of athletes who went on to glory on the national stage, including both Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr., and Arnold Galiffa, who won 11 varsity letters at West Point and played professional football in the United States and Canada.
Of all the athletic stars to emerge from Donora, perhaps none shimmered as luminously as Stan Musial.
A shoo-in to the Baseball Hall of Fame and one of the game’s greatest hitters, he was snapped up by the St. Louis Cardinals after learning how to play “with a broomstick and a ball of tape” and becoming a stand-out athlete at Donora High School. Though originally prized for his pitching skills, it was as a slugger of line drives that flew like bullets that Musial made his mark. Through the course of a Major League career that lasted from 1941 to 1963, Musial racked up some impressive numbers – he hit 475 home runs, had a .331 batting average and the 3,630 hits he had over 22 years has been exceeded by only four other players.
Musial was a key part of the Cardinals in an era where they competed with – and sometimes bested – East Coast goliaths like the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
From all accounts, Musial also was a model of humility and sportsmanship. He once asked for a salary cut in a season where he had a slump. It’s almost unfathomable that someone like, say, Alex Rodriguez, would request the same in more recent times.
Musial also was a leader in baseball’s integration, urging his fellow Cardinals not to strike at the prospect of playing against Jackie Robinson, and, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he once walked out of a Pittsburgh restaurant when it refused to serve a black teammate.
With his death over the weekend at age 92, Donora, and all of Washington County, has lost a native son it should be proud to call its own.