In a game defined by nostalgia, in a sport that clings to its mythology, Albert Fred “Red” Schoendienst shouldn't fit. His career is that of a giant, but his story is that of an everyman. His humble baseball beginnings, hitchhiking to St. Louis on a milk wagon from Germantown, Illinois for a chance at a baseball tryout—it's Cardinal lore.
What followed is an improbable baseball legend.
As news of Schoendienst’s passing was shared on the Busch Stadium video board between innings Wednesday night, a sea of red rose up from the seats. A swell of humanity stood tall in the face of grief, the stoicism pierced by cries of “We love you, Red!”
It’s been 55 years since Red last played for St. Louis. His tenure as Cardinals manager ended more than four decades ago.
None of that seemed to matter Wednesday night.
You couldn't scroll through a social media timeline without seeing hundreds of people sharing their #LoveRed2 stories, eager to detail the moment in time when their path crossed with his.
Red Schoendienst was Cardinals baseball.
He wasn't just a fan favorite. Even as his time away from the game increased, his impact on Cardinal players has never diminished.
After his final stint as an interim manager in 1990, Schoendienst continued to don the birds on the bat, serving as a special assistant to the General Manager. Up until the last couple years, Red was a constant at spring training. Adam Wainwright could recall asking Red each year how many spring trainings it had been for him.
"It was always a number that you couldn't even fathom in your mind," Wainwright said.
Red stayed because he loved the game. He enjoyed being around to impart his knowledge on future generations of Redbirds—a fact not lost on the current players.
"Red's been a guy that, since I've been with the Cardinals, he's been front and center," Kolten Wong said. "Helping the young guys, talking to the young guys. Just to have known Red and to have been around Red is an absolute pleasure of mine. It's a sad day for everybody who's been around him."
Wong's connection to Red goes deeper than sharing the same uniform—they also share the same position. An All-Star nine times during his Cardinal career, Schoendienst was known as a sure-handed fielder at second base—still today, he remains 10th all-time in MLB history for most double plays turned by a second baseman.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Red would have possessed plenty of wisdom for Wong to soak in over the years.
"Just how to play the game the right way," Wong said. "That's the one thing I learned from Red: he did everything the right way. He was a Cardinal through and through. For us to have known him—to have been around him—is a blessing for all of us."
For Cardinal veterans, hearing of Red's passing in the middle of a game caught them off guard.
"I immediately started thinking about the times I was lucky enough to be in his presence, to be able to talk to him," Michael Wacha said.
Whenever he got that chance to chat with him over the years about "how it was back then—playing the same game that I have been playing," Wacha was always taken by Red's perspective; a treasure trove of baseball knowledge spanning eight decades.
And how can you not marvel at a career like Red's? All those years spent living and breathing America's pastime. Of course, there was never any doubt he had earned his status as a legend around St. Louis.
"What goes without saying is how brilliant Red's baseball mind was," Wainwright said. "Just a guy that knew more about the game than probably anybody I'd seen. He had seen more and experienced more and had more to teach and give than just about anybody I'd been around. A great baseball man, a great Cardinal man. A great guy for St. Louis, and a guy we all looked up to."
If baseball is defined by nostalgia—by the bittersweet sadness of bygone eras and how they shape our love of the game—then Red never really fit. He never indulged vanity; never allowed himself to bask in the significance of his accomplishments. As legend, he only wanted to be seen as a man—and a happy one at that. What is the accomplishment without joy? What is joy if it's not shared?
"He was always roaming the fields out there in spring training in his golf carts, making his rounds," Wacha said. "He always had a smile on his face, always bringing the cheer. He's a guy that's going to be truly missed around here."
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