When Albert Fred “Red” Schoendienst was born on February 2, 1923, the St. Louis Cardinals had never won a World Series. Neither had the New York Yankees. Walter Johnson was still half a decade away from retirement. In the final Major League Baseball season played before Red Schoendienst was born, the leagues combined for 1,248 triples and 1,055 home runs. Triples accounted for 54% of hits which went for three or more bases. In 2017, that number was 11.5%.
Red Schoendienst was born and raised in Germantown, a small village in Clinton County, Illinois which is located about 40 miles from St. Louis. He grew up in humble circumstances, but he overcame eye injuries to break into the Majors with the Cardinals in 1945, at age 22. A talented two-way second baseman, Schoendienst was an All-Star nine times with the Cardinals before he was traded to the New York Giants, who the next season traded him to the Milwaukee Braves, where he won a World Series while finishing third in National League MVP voting and leading the league in hits.
Following the 1960 season, Schoendienst returned to St. Louis, primarily as a pinch hitter before transitioning to a coaching role. In 1965, Schoendienst took over as manager of the Cardinals, leading a team comprised of many of his former teammates. In his third season as manager, Schoendienst’s Cardinals won 101 games and a World Series championship. The next season, the Cardinals won 97 games and another National League pennant.
Following a lacklulster 1976 season in which the Cardinals went 72-90, the Cardinals fired Schoendienst, after which he spent two season as a coach for the Oakland Athletics. Schoendienst returned to the Cardinals in 1979 as a coach on the staff of Ken Boyer, a former teammate and a player whom Schoendienst managed. In 1980, Schoendienst served again as manager, this time in an interim capacity, before the job was filled on a full-time basis by Whitey Herzog, for whom Schoendienst worked as a coach. In 1990, when Herzog resigned, Schoendienst stepped in again to manage the team.
It often feels a bit crass to eulogize men based solely on their professional merits. But even for a generation of fans who never experienced Red Schoendienst in a publicly visible role, be it as a player or a manager, he was an omnipresent part of our experience as Cardinals fans. 2018 was the 74th consecutive season in which Schoendienst donned a MLB uniform, this time as a special assistant coach.
The story of Red Schoendienst’s professional career, not the singular aspect of his life but undeniably a major part of it, is the story of the St. Louis Cardinals. He may never have played with Rogers Hornsby, but he also debuted with the Cardinals the same season as Harry Caray, and nine seasons before Jack Buck. Schoendienst played under Billy Southworth and he managed Ray Lankford. He played with Stan Musial and Bob Gibson (and outside of St. Louis, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron).
Baseball’s greatest strength is its history, but this strength can also be a weakness when those involved with the sport–directly or as fans–are stuck in the past. Red Schoendienst was a link to the past of baseball and of the Cardinals, but he was not stuck there. In this video, he describes his teammate Enos Slaughter’s legendary “Mad Dash Home” in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, and minutes later, he discusses Albert Pujols with a level of reverence that not all baseball lifers have for men fifty-seven years their junior.
Red Schoendienst was a link to the past for the Cardinals, but the effect he had was less one of longing for the old days and more one of appreciating what past generations did in giving modern fans the wonderful product that is the current-day St. Louis Cardinals. He was a vibrant, relevant fixture for the St. Louis Cardinals for decades, and while his presence with the team will be missed, Cardinals fans, and fans of baseball as a whole, should be grateful of the ninety-five years we got from Red Schoendienst.