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Red Schoendienst and the Cardinals Formed an Incredible, Lasting Bond

In the early 1990s, when young outfielder Brian Jordan was trying to play his way onto the Cardinals’ big-league roster, he took some time to have a conversation with the eternal Cardinal.

Red Schoendienst.

“Red, you’re still coaching after all of these years, and you’ve been part of this spring training for decades,” Jordan said. “You must really love baseball.”

Schoendienst smiled. Of course he loved baseball.

Almost as much as Baseball loved Red.

Schoendienst said to Jordan, “Being around all of you young guys keeps me young.”

Jordan had the perfect response: “And being around Red Schoendienst makes us young guys feel older, more mature and smarter.”

Schoendienst, who died Wednesday at age 95, was a part of baseball in St. Louis for so long it’s difficult to calculate his number of years and games spent in uniform. But if we include Red’s three seasons in the St. Louis farm system as a developing second base prospect, and count the number of games that Schoendienst served the Cardinals as player, manager, coach, player-coach or advisor … it’s simply extraordinary. A journey of a humble baseball man and exceptional franchise that lasted some 70 years,  with only brief interruptions.

Not counting his three-plus seasons as a second baseman for  the Braves and Giants, and his two years as a coach for the A’s, Schoendienst wore the Birds on the Bat for an estimated 7,000 games in his multiple, valuable roles. And keep in mind, this just represents the “official” count. Red spent many days at Busch Stadium II or Busch III  after 1995 (his final year as a titled coach). Schoendienst would be in uniform before games, working as a de facto coach, hitting fungoes, and providing counsel or support.

Red didn’t have the coach designation — but he didn’t need it. He was an institution. And Cardinals managers, coaches, front-office executives and players cherished the opportunity to visit this history museum.

The Red Schoendienst history museum.

With the museum being Red Schoendienst himself.

Go ahead and see him. You’ll be better for the experience.

“I’ve said many times, my favorite moments managing the Cardinals were during batting practice,” Tony La Russa said Thursday. “Standing in the outfield, shagging balls, and standing next to Red. He knew so much and it was wonderful to talk to him.”

Schoendienst had impeccable baseball credentials.

Red was a 10-time All-Star second baseman, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1989. He started for the 1946 World Series champion Cardinals. He started for the 1957 World Series champion Milwaukee Braves, and helped the Braves win the NL pennant in ’58.

Schoendienst was a coach for the 1964 Cardinals, who won the organization’s first World Series title since ’46. As the Cardinals manager, Schoendienst’s team won the 1967 World Series in his third season on the job, and repeated as NL champs in 1968. Red was on Whitey Herzog’s coaching staff when the 1982 Cardinals won the franchise’s first World Series since ’67. He coached for Herzog when the Cardinals won NL pennants in 1985 and 1987.

You’ll notice the trend there…

Red Schoendienst, winner.

This is among the reasons why every Cardinals manager since 1979 have sought Red out, to befriend him and lean on him. He coached for Ken Boyer, Herzog, Joe Torre and La Russa. Until his health became a problem, Red was always around for Mike Matheny.

Schoendienst managed the Cardinals in four different decades, the last two being interim-manager stints in 1980 and 1990. Four decades? Unbelievable. So in his first season (1965), Red managed Lou Brock. During the last 24 games that Red ever managed (1990) one of his players was Vince Coleman. Yes, Brock and Coleman: the two leading base stealers in franchise history.

So when you’ve had that expanse of experience, you’re filled with an abundance of the level-headed perspective that young managers can’t always find.

Sure, La Russa and the others revered Schoendienst for his knowledge of baseball, his historical imprint, his genuine manner, his straight-talk answers to questions, and his common-sense Midwestern virtues.  When La Russa needed advice, he didn’t go to a phony, or someone that would tell TLR what he wanted to hear to score points. If La Russa had something on his mind, needed to consult with someone trustworthy and loyal.

So TLR would head to the outfield during batting practice. And stop by Red’s place.

“He was wholesome, he was pure,” La Russa said. “In fact, I was looking yesterday when I heard the news. You know how you have album on your cell phone of your pictures — besides family I probably have more pictures Red on that damn thing then I do of anybody else. And the ones I have, the great majority he’s smiling, he’s laughing. He was a person that brought the best out in everybody, and you love to go out and socialize with him because he wasn’t going to be moping, he wasn’t going to be negative.

“We always wanted to have a history of all the stories that he will tell, and unfortunately they’re gone because he won’t be able to tell them. They were wonderful stories and he delighted in telling them and you delighted in hearing them.”

Who will replace dear Red?

Impossible. Won’t happen, can’t happen.  This career cannot be repeated. No personality can match Red’s personality or longevity. No one can earn the level of trust that Red earned. No one can come close to having Red’s depth of history, loyalty and decency. No one can come close to equaling the Schoendienst legacy curated by a Hall of Fame playing career, a championship-winning managerial career, a prestigious coaching career, and his status as one of the all-time great human beings to grace the game of baseball.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie

More: Red Schoendienst dies at 95, was oldest living Hall of Famer