Barring a catastrophe, Albert Fred (Red) Schoendienst will join the Cardinals in Jupiter shortly and begin his 70th consecutive season in a major league uniform (73rd consecutive in a professional uniform). Red turned 91 yesterday and is the fourth oldest living Hall of Famer behind Bobby Doerr, Monte Irvin, and Ralph Kiner.
Red's story began in the small village of Germantown, IL - a community of about 1100 residents according to a recent census, approximately 40 miles east of Busch Stadium. The Schoendienst family grew up in a house with neither running water nor electricity. His coal miner father struggled to support his seven children. Red dropped out of school at 16 to join the New Deal era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Working on a fence one day, Albert suffered a devastating eye injury. Doctors wanted to remove the damaged organ, but Red pleaded until he found a sympathetic doctor who was willing to avoid surgery. Schoendienst battled headaches and went through a treatment program that included years of wearing an eye patch and doing hours of daily eye exercises. Returning to the diamond, Red discovered that his impaired left eye greatly impacted his ability to read breaking balls from right-handed pitchers. The straightforward solution ? Schoendienst taught himself to be a switch hitter.
The 19 year old Schoendienst (the name translated from German means good or beautiful service) attended an open tryout in the spring of 1942 in St. Louis along with about 400 other hopefuls. St. Louis native Joe Garagiola and Schoendienst buddy Joe Linneman were the only players offered contracts. Red, Yogi Berra and all the others were sent home. But it turned out that a miscommunication had led to Red not being signed. When a furious chief scout Joe Mathes learned of the oversight , he personally drove to Germantown and inked Albert to a $75/ month contract. A bonus that consisted of a ham sandwich and a glass of milk sealed the deal.
The Redbirds assigned the freckled redhead to the Union City (TN) Greyhounds of the Kitty League for the 1942 season. Union City was a Class D team - one of the Cardinals' 22 minor league affiliates in 1942. The good news ? Red notched eight hits in his first eight at bats at and hit a gaudy .407 while there. The bad news ? The team started 8-33. The awful news ? At that point, the Kitty (Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee) League folded. Red was sent to Albany (GA) in the Class D Georgia-Florida League to complete the 1942 campaign. Neither man knew it at the time, but Schoendienst and St. Louis Beaumont High School graduate Chuck Diering (who spent five of his nine MLB seasons wearing the Birds on the Bat) were the only members of the 1942 Albany team who would ascend to the majors.
For the 1943 year, the redhead was promoted to the Class B Lynchburg (VA) Cardinals. Playing exclusively at shortstop now, Red blistered Piedmont League pitching to the tune of a .472 mark in his first nine games. The AA Rochester Red Wings were struggling at shortstop, so the skinny Schoendienst boarded an all-night train and headed to upstate New York in May. Arriving at the park shortly before a Sunday doubleheader, he timidly interrupted a loud rant by Red Wing manager and former Cardinal legend John (Pepper) Martin by knocking at the clubhouse door. Martin opened the door and upon seeing the 150 lb. Schoendienst, immediately roared that he didn't need another batboy. The "batboy" went on to be voted league MVP and to pace the International League in hitting at a .337 clip in becoming at age 20 the second youngest (behind (Wee) Willie Keeler) batting champ in IL history.
As the 1944 season approached, two important issues were pretty well established: Schoendienst was a blue chip prospect. Schoendienst was about to be drafted into military service. Due to his pending military obligation, Red was sent to Rochester again where he played shortstop and batted .373 while waiting. Sure enough, in mid-May the call from Uncle Sam came. Appreciative Red Wings fans passed the hat after the news was announced over the ballpark's public address system and over $400 was collected as a going away gift. The modest Schoendienst naturally sent the money to his mother.
On January 1, 1945, Red received a medical discharge from the Army. In addition to the issue with his left eye, repeated shooting with a bazooka during training exercises aggravated a chronic right shoulder problem.
When Albert arrived for 1945 spring training in Cairo, IL, the Redbirds had the slick-fielding and defending National League Most Valuable Player Marty Marion entrenched at shortstop. The defending World Series champs pointed Schoendienst to left field. Red acquitted himself credibly with both the stick and the leather and turned heads by leading the NL in stolen bases with 26.
For the magical 1946 season, Red was transitioned to second base - his home for the next 17 seasons. He began a life-long friendship with returning World War II veteran Stan Musial who became his road roommate for 13 seasons. Musial and Schoendienst combined with Enos Slaughter, Whitey Kurowski, Harry (The Hat) Walker, Marion and Garagiola to form a formidable line-up that led the NL in runs scored. The pennant winning Birds advanced to the World Series where they overcame a three games to two deficit to top the Boston Red Sox as Enos Slaughter's Mad Dash scored the tie-breaking and final run in Game Seven.
It was the first of five World Series rings that Schoendienst would win while in uniform; the second came while playing for the Milwaukee Braves in 1957; his next was earned while a coach with the 1964 Redbirds; Red skippered the 1967 Viva El Birdos squad to the title; and concluded with a ring earned while on Whitey Herzog's coaching staff in 1982.
Other career highlights include:
Schoendienst was the hero of the 1950 All-Star game. In the first All-Star game to go extra innings, Red powered a tie-breaking 14th inning homer which proved to be the decisive marker in the NL's 4-3 win.
Red was the winner of a televised 1946 Home Run Derby.
According to Musial, Red possessed "the greatest pair of hands I've ever seen".
He was teammates with three of the eight greatest position players in the history of the game, by bWAR - Musial, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays
He was inducted into Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee in 1989.
The Cardinals retired his number 2 in 1996.
Stricken in the spring of 1959 with tuberculosis and told he would be unable to play that season and most likely ever again, he overcame the odds, and returned to the Braves in September.
He capped his career with two solid seasons back in St. Louis and hit over .300 in both years at the ages of 38 and 39.
The following articles were helpful in producing this post and will provide even more information and anecdotes about this Cardinal legend: 1968 Sports Illustrated article by William Leggett: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1081657/1/index.htm
2009 article by Bill Flynn commemorating Red's election to the International League HOF: http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?sid=t534&ymd=20091117&content_id=7677576&vkey=news
1959 newspaper article in the Pittsburgh Press by Herbert Kamm: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19590401&id=GUIqAAAAIBAJ&sjid=aU4EAAAAIBAJ&pg=7416,237730