On Feb. 2, 1923, Red Schoendienst was born. That’s just one of many facts Richard learned about him in writing this week’s column.
Speaking purely of players, and excluding those who played in either the 19th century or the Negro Leagues, the Hall of Famer about whom I know the least is almost certainly Red Schoendienst. Before doing any research besides discovering his birthday and the correct spelling of his last name (and boy, did that take a few tries), I wrote up the mental “file card” I had on ol’ Red:
Player: Schoendienst, Red. Real Name: Unknown. Source of Nickname: Probably his hair color. Bats: Unknown. Throws: Unknown. Team(s) Played For: St. Louis Cardinals, maybe others. Position(s): Unknown. Post Playing Career: Managed the Cardinals, I think. Career Statistics: Apparently good enough to make the Hall of Fame. Dead or Alive: Alive—no, wait, dead—no, alive. Possibly.
Ouch, that’s not so good. Well, let’s tackle them one by one. His real name was Albert Fred Schoendienst and as I successfully guessed, his nickname came from his hair, which really was quite red. (It was a quality that, according to Bill James, Schoendienst shared with six brothers; that must have been some sight.) Schoendienst was a switch hitter. That came about after an eye injury he suffered as a teen. Given that he was a right-handed thrower, I assume that is his natural side.
Over a 19-year career, Schoendienst played for just three teams. First came the Cardinals, for whom he toiled from 1945 to mid-1956, when he was traded to the Giants. He tenure in New York was quick, and exactly a year and a day after acquiring him, the Giants sent Schoendienst to the Milwaukee Braves. Schoendienst spent three and a half years in Milwaukee—with the last three being among the worst in his career. After drawing his release from the Braves, Schoendienst returned to St. Louis and played the final three years of his career with the Cards.
The Cards are the team with which Schoendienst is most identified; counting his time as a manager and coach (about which more later), he spent nearly 50 years with the organization, including all but four and a half years of his playing career. The Redbirds retired Schoendienst’s number two in 1996 and in 1998 he got a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Such is Schoendienst’s standing with the team that his daughter Colleen was invited to sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch of Game Four of the World Series this past year.
Although he was a shortstop in the minor leagues, and played primarily in left field during his rookie 1945 season, Schoendienst spent nearly all his time in the major leagues at second base. (In fact, leaving out his rookie year, Schoendienst played only 83 games away from the keystone.)
In St. Louis, Schoendienst was blocked from his natural position by Marty Marion—the Cards’ all-time great shortstop until the arrival of Ozzie Smith—and after ’45 it quickly became apparent he didn’t have the kind of bat to carry left field. In any case, Stan Musial was returning from active duty in the Navy.
Schoendienst therefore moved to second base and it was a brilliant match. He would set the record for consecutive errorless chances as a second baseman, then break his own record the next year. He excelled on the pivot at second base and Musial hailed him as having “the greatest pair of hands [he’d] ever seen.”
Schoendienst is beloved in St. Louis to this day and while his playing career is a major part of that, his tenure with the team once he stopped playing is equally important. Schoendienst began managing the Cards in 1965, taking over for Johnny Keane, who had left St. Louis to manage the Yankees. As it turned out, that was a bad decision on two fronts. The Yankees immediately stopped being competitive—Keane barely lasted a season—and Schoendienst’s first year in St. Louis saw the team drop from pennant winners to seventh place.
Just two years later, however, Schoendienst (with a major assist from league MVP Orlando Cepeda) led the Cardinals to the World Series. In an exciting seven-game Series, the Cards vanquished the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox. For Schoendienst, this was his third World Series title, second both as a member of the Cards and over the Red Sox and first as a manager. In 1968, he returned the Cards to the Series, against Detroit, but this time the seventh game went against Schoendienst..
Schoendienst managed the team until 1976 and again briefly in 1980 and ’90. He twice more took Cardinal teams to within two games of the playoffs, but never again returned them to the World Series.
Schoendienst left the team shortly after the end of his first managerial stint to coach briefly for the A’s, but he returned to St. Louis and coached there for many years, including as bench coach to Whitey Herzog during the Cards’ glory days in the ’80s. Today he serves as a spring training instructor and special assistant to St. Louis GM Walt Jocketty.
At first glance, Schoendienst seems a poor choice for the Hall. His career OPS+ is seven points below average, he never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting, three times he led the league in outs and he never received more than 42 percent during his time on the Hall of Fame ballot. (The Veterans Committee elected him in 1989.)
Upon further examination, though, he deserves a bit more credit. Although Schoendienst never finished higher than fourth in the MVP, he received votes in six years, and accumulated more than Ralph Kiner, Luis Aparicio or Wade Boggs. Schoendienst was a 10-time All-Star, held an impeccable defensive reputation and was a crucial member of two World Series winners and a third pennant winner. Ultimately he is the very picture of a borderline selection as a player, but when considering his accomplishments as a manager, probably belongs as a hybrid selection.
Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out by now, Schoendienst, turning 84 this week, is still very much alive.