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Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst dies at 95; he was 'Mr. Cardinal'

Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst dies at 95; he was 'Mr. Cardinal'

From the Many Reds, one legend: Post-Dispatch coverage of Schoendienst series

If the late Hall of Famer Stan Musial was “the greatest Cardinal of them all,” then fellow Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst easily could be called “Mr. Cardinal.”

Mr. Schoendienst, who died Wednesday evening (June 6, 2018) at home in Town and Country at age 95, wore the Cardinals’ uniform longer than anybody else in the franchise’s long and storied history and was the oldest living Hall of Famer.

He played for the Cardinals from 1945-56 and again from 1961-63. He coached for the 1964 world champion Cardinals and managed the Cardinals from 1965-76, winning National League pennants in 1967-68 and a World Series in 1967.

After two years as an Oakland Athletics coach, Mr. Schoendienst would return as a Cardinals coach from 1977-1995, including stints as interim manager in 1980 and 1990, and after that, for more than 20 years, was a staple in uniform before every home game and in spring training as a special assistant to the general manager.

In total, Mr. Schoendienst wore the “birds on the bat” for more than 60 years, with the highlight coming in 1989 when he was elected by the Veterans Committee to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., joining his longtime friend, roommate and teammate Musial.

Mr. Schoendienst is survived by his four children — Colleen, Cathleen, Eileen and Kevin; eight living grandchildren (he had 10 total grandchildren); and seven great-grandchildren.

“Red was one of the greatest Cardinals of all time, and a beloved member of the Cardinals organization for over six decades,” said Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. in a statement.

“His influence on this organization cannot be overstated. Red was a great player, a great manager and a wonderful mentor to countless players, coaches and members of the front office. He was also a fan favorite who connected with millions of Cardinals fans across multiple generations. He will be sorely missed.”

Dal Maxvill, the shortstop on the World Series teams of 1967-68 and later a coach with Mr. Schoendienst and then the Cardinals general manager, put it simply, but perhaps the best: “He was one of those guys,” said Maxvill, “where you never heard anybody say anything bad about him. There’s not too many people like that.”

Tony La Russa, one of several Hall of Fame managers who wore the Cardinals uniform, said, “He was one of the most beautiful individuals you’d ever want to meet. In every way, he was beautiful.”

The Schoendienst family provided the following statement: “Red Schoendienst has passed away today surrounded by his family. He had a life full of happiness for 95 years. He inspired all that knew him to always do their best. Red was a great ball player, but his legacy is that of a great gentleman who had respect for all. He loved his family, friends, teammates, the community and his country. He will be greatly missed.”

Mr. Schoendienst, born on Feb. 2, 1923, in Germantown, Ill., was signed by the Cardinals from a tryout camp in St. Louis in 1942. Ironically, he made his big-league debut in 1945 when Musial was in the Navy and even more ironically, he made that debut as a left fielder.

As his career evolved, Mr. Schoendienst became known, besides his clutch hitting as a switch-hitter, for his slick defensive play at second base. “He had the greatest pair of hands I’ve ever seen,” Musial once said.

Indeed, Mr. Schoendienst led the National League in fielding percentage at second base seven times, in addition to hitting better than .300 for a full season on five occasions and being named to 10 All-Star squads. Mr. Schoendienst’s defensive percentage of .9934 in 1956 lasted as a National League mark for 30 years.

Mr. Schoendienst was surprised and crushed when he was dealt at the trading deadline in 1956 to the New York Giants in a nine-player deal that brought shortstop Alvin Dark to St. Louis. But, a year and a day later, Mr. Schoendienst was sent by the Giants to the Milwaukee Braves, whom he helped lead to pennants in 1957 and 1958 before being limited to just five games in 1959 after he had been beset by tuberculosis.

The Milwaukee franchise won its first and only World Series in 1957, with Henry Aaron named the Most Valuable Player that year. But, in Aaron’s mind, there was only one MVP and it wasn’t himself.

“We don’t win it without Red. He was our Most Valuable Player,” Aaron said many times in succeeding years. Mr. Schoendienst hit .310 for the Braves as their midseason spark and finished third in the league MVP vote, an almost astonishing accomplishment as he played just more than half a season with Milwaukee that year.

Counting his seasons with Aaron as a teammate, Mr. Schoendienst had the distinction of being teammates with Hall of Famers Aaron, Musial and Willie Mays of the Giants, just as those three had the distinction of being his teammate.

Mr. Schoendienst’s career had taken form when he was named the International League Most Valuable Player in 1943 as he hit .337 for the Cardinals’ Rochester Class AAA farm team and then he batted .373 in 25 games for Rochester the next year before going into the Army.

But Mr. Schoendienst was discharged in 1945 due to a severe eye injury and an injured left shoulder and soon joined the Cardinals, making the team out of spring training.

After his year in the outfield, Mr. Schoendienst moved to second base in 1946, helping the Cardinals to their third World Series title in five years.

He would be a staple at second base for the Cardinals for the next 10 years. His best offensive year came in 1953 when he finished second in the NL batting race, hitting .342, two points behind Carl Furillo of Brooklyn.

Mr. Schoendienst hit 15 home runs that year and 84 for his career. But the home run he was most noted for was his 14th-inning blast off Detroit left-hander Ted Gray to win the 1950 All-Star Game for the National League in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

Mr. Schoendienst also would manage the National League to All-Star victories in 1968 and 1969. He is the only person to have managed the Cardinals in four decades. After his 12-season stint from 1965-76, Mr. Schoendienst finished out the 1980 season as manager and then managed in 1990 between the resignation of Whitey Herzog and the hiring of Joe Torre.

The “Redhead” achieved 1,041 victories as a Cardinals manager, second only to La Russa. As a player, he hit .289 for his career, and his fielding average was a snappy .983.

When his playing, coaching and managing days were over, Mr. Schoendienst still was a font of information for La Russa, who often asked Mr. Schoendienst for his opinions when La Russa had his successful run as manager of the Cardinals that ended in 2011.

Mr. Schoendienst’s No. 2 was retired officially in 1996, yet he wore it for many years afterward. For a long time, La Russa had a picture of Mr. Schoendienst in the manager’s office with the caption, “His uniform’s retired. But he’s not.”

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