Red Schoendienst passed away on June 6 at age 95. KMOV had a chance to talk with Red in 2015. Below is our feature on his incredible life and his role in baseball history.
ST. LOUIS -- Red Schoendienst sat in a small media room in the depths of Busch Stadium, wearing a crisp olive green suit with a Cardinal red tie, a contrast to the simple baseball uniform he's worn for much of the last 70 years. The 92-year-old smiled kindly at the small crowd of reporters. “What is this, the World Series?”
In some ways, it was more significant.
Friday, the 70th anniversary of Schoendienst's debut in baseball, the Cardinals honored the Hall of Famer in a moving pre-game ceremony, his family joining him on the field to celebrate his 19-year career as a player and 1,996 games as a manager. “I owe a lot to a lot of people for being around as long as I have, 70 years in baseball,” Schoendienst said. The 10-time All Star talked casually, telling stories as though he was on a porch for a Sunday afternoon card game. His tales featured a who's who of baseball legends, like a guided tour through Cooperstown.
He recalled that the Cardinals and Yankees both trained in St. Petersberg, Florida, and the two clubs played each other five times each preseason.
“In Spring Training, I always liked Mickey Mantle because he could run and he was a switch hitter. I told Casey Stengel at the time, ‘I want you to play him every day,'” he said, dropping two of the biggest names in baseball history as though they were people you might bump into at the grocery store.
“Mickey heard that and the last game we played against him, he came up to me and said, ‘what the hell are you trying to do, getting me to play every ballgame?'” Schoendienst laughed.
Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron; names that belong to men honored in bronze outside of ballparks across the country slip casually off Schoendienst's tongue as he remembers his peers.
As he talks, the sport feels touchable again. Instead of predictable rhetoric and monotone platitudes, the conversation is honest and tinged with affection.
“I like baseball,” Schoendienst said simply. “This is the only thing I knew how to do.”
When he signed his first contract, the future World Series champion began in D ball - the bottom of the barrel as he called it.
“If you go any lower, you're back home,” he said.
He made an error in his first game, a mistake he recalls feeling would be fatal. Instead, he got a pick-me-up from another baseball legend.
“Mr. Rickey was there at the time,” he said. (That's Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey to you and me.) “I didn't know he was there. It was my first professional game and he's sitting there in that little old clubhouse I was in in Union City, Tenn. and he said, ‘young man, you're a great ballplayer. I know you made some errors, but you're going to make a lot more errors before you get out of the game.' He made me feel pretty good.”
Rickey's statement would prove true, as Schoendienst made an error in his very first game as a major leaguer against the Cubs.
“Phil Cavarretta hit a line drive and it was over my head. It got by me somehow and I got an error,” he said, pausing before offering, “But I think I did hit a triple in that game.”
He did, picking up the first of his 78 triples and the first of his 2,449 career hits. That error turned out to be one of only 170 in more than 10,000 chances.
To go with those marks, the 92-year-old is part of the 1,000 runs club (1,223) and led the league in hits, doubles and stolen bases at different times throughout his 19-season career.
But the magic of Schoendienst's conversation wasn't hearing someone with such a prolific career talk. It was the casual ease with which he humanized the game.
“I hitchhiked, came in here on a milk wagon from Germantown, Ill.,” he said, recalling his first trip to audition for the Cardinals. “A fella by the name of Larry Beckman, I think, was the driver. I got off at Pevely Dairy and I knew how to get to the ballpark (Sportsman's Park).”
Schoendienst had to stay overnight in St. Louis before he would take the field the next day, which was a complicated proposition given he didn't have any money. The young ballplayer knew Union Station from reading about it in the newspaper, and decided it held his best chance for a place to rest. It was raining that night, and around 11:30 p.m., he found himself hoping for nothing more than a flat surface to lie on.
“There was a nice big bench sitting there and I thought, ‘oh this is the place for me,'” he chuckled. “By the time I sat down, someone was tapping me on the shoulder and said, ‘young man we won't have anybody lounging around in here, out we go.'”
The story seems absurd when today's players pull into the stadium in cars worth a quarter of a million dollars and hold apartments in multiple cities. While $122 million worth of Cardinal talent was taking the field against the Reds, one of the franchise's greatest members was telling a story about getting kicked out of a train station like a hobo.
Schoendienst found a port in the storm, convincing a nearby hotel to let him stay overnight for a nickel. Like most residencies with negotiable pricing, it came with a catch. His night was spent with roommates - a colony of bedbugs that capitalized on his presence. As it turns out, Red may owe them a cut.
“While I was in that hotel, the bedbugs bit me pretty good and it kept me moving. I think that's what kept me moving on the field, and that's why they signed me up,” he laughed.
If the Cardinals had known the full story, that hotel might be a national monument today. Schoendienst would go on to win a World Series with St. Louis in 1946, another with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957, and then return to win three more with the Cards; 1964 and 1982 as a coach and 1967 as their manager. He's remained with the team as a special assistant coach, and even in 2015, he's hunting another trip to the Fall Classic.
“I want to win one more World Series. I want to be around,” he said. “I hope it's this year.”
Schoendienst is still active with the club, often serving as a sounding board for current manager Mike Matheny. The Cardinal skipper calls him for opinions on players and leans on his expansive knowledge for advice. For a roster of young talent, Schoendienst offers something badly needed in a game defined by failure - perspective.
“You go 0-for-4 a few times, have a bad game where you think you should have won the game, and you come home and there's your little girl or little boy giving you a big hug,” he said. “That'll take the pressure off of you.”
Far removed from the days of high pressure and public performance, Schoendienst soaked in the evening in his honor. Fans who never saw him play, who only know him from stat sheets and grainy footage, roared at his name. They sent in videos thanking him for what he brought to the game, as part of the organization's social media campaign and they wore buttons handed out at the gates that said “We love Red 2.”
“Baseball has been so good to me, I don't know how to express myself to thank them for everything that happened to me,” Schoendienst said softly. “The fans, I see they have a button on: ‘We Love Red.' Well I love you all, too.”