I have never known Cardinals baseball without Red Schoendienst. Nobody who reads this has either. He has been around forever, an oft overused term that is nonetheless completely applicable in this particular situation. He has been a player, manager, coach, special assistant, and whatever else was required of him. He was a Cardinals lifer.
It is appropriate that Albert Fred Schoendienst was born in Germantown, Illinois, less than an hour drive from Busch Stadium (and likely Sportsman Park, but I’m not exactly sure where that stadium was located). He was born in Cardinals country in 1923, and three years later the Cardinals won their first World Series. He attended an open tryout in 1942 for the Cardinals and was sent home, but a dedicated scout by the name of Joe Mathes believed in Red and made sure he signed. He was signed to a $75 a month contract.
When Red was working on a fence in his teens, he suffered a serious injury to his left eye from a nail. He was recommended removal of the eye, but understandably he sought other opinions and found a doctor who was willing to try a non-surgical solution. Ultimately this affected his ability to see breaking pitches right-handed, which led him to try batting left-handed. His eye injury is why he became a switch hitter.
The Cardinals were one of the few teams to have a minor league system and once signed, he dominated in the minors. In 1944, he batted .373 in 25 games and was drafted midseason for World War II, but was medically discharged because of his eye injury. In 1945, he earned a full-time job for the Cardinals. Though not immediately successful when he debuted at only 22 years old, Red quickly improved, making his first All Star Game the following season.
Red ended up becoming a 10-time All-Star, the vast majority with the Cardinals - in fact, only one appearance was not while wearing the Birds on the Bat. His play earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame and, of course, the Cardinals Hall of Fame. His number 2 is retired for the Cardinals. In 2017, he completed his 72nd season as a member of the organization, as either a player, manager or coach.
For most obituaries - and honestly since I did not know the man and never saw him in action, I feel wrong calling this an obituary - you don’t necessarily get the sense that the person was able to do exactly what they wanted to do with their life. That’s not the case here. To be honest, I’m envious of the life he was able to have. I assume most are. He was involved with major league baseball for 72 seasons, and not only is that incredibly difficult, but it’s something you only do if you love it.
Anytime somebody dies, it is sad, but this is not necessarily a sad occasion, or it shouldn’t be. Red led a long life. He led an active life. He was - and no matter how many times I emphasize this, it doesn’t make it easier to fathom - able to be a part of the sport and job he loved for over 70 years. Think about that. It’s hard to wrap your mind around just how long he was a part of baseball.
I don’t feel like I’m the person who should be writing this. I feel inadequate. I’ve always accepted him as a part of Cardinals baseball, but he’s never necessarily been a major part of the teams I’ve got to see. But I also feel he should be celebrated. He should have something to celebrate his life. I’m not the person to do it, but, well, nobody else really is either. He outlived his teammates and he outlived most of the players who called him manager.
He led a wonderful, spectacular life. He probably didn’t have a regret in his life. He was married for 52 years. He had four children and ten grandchildren. I know I’ve said this many times, but he was able to be in baseball for over 70 years! I don’t care how minor of a role he had in part of those 70 years, that is an absolutely incredible life. Think of this post less as a successful attempt at capturing his life - because I have no doubt that I don’t have the word count to do that - and more as a reason to celebrate him. Rest in peace, Red.
*I recommend reading PugetSoundCardsAddict’s post on Red way back in 2014. It provided some information for this post. It’s also a far better attempt at capturing his life than this was.