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Baseball Has Lost Another Iconic Presence

JACK BUCK, left, and Harry Caray were the St. Louis  Cardinals play-by-play announcers when Red Schoendienst had his best years as a manager.

JACK BUCK, left, and Harry Caray were the St. Louis Cardinals play-by-play announcers when Red Schoendienst had his best years as a manager.

By DAVID MILLER News Sports WriterSClBAnother baseball icon passed away last week. I was saddened to learn of the death of Hall-of-Famer Red Schoendienst, a former player, manager, coach and baseball legend. Most of his career was with the St. Louis Cardinals, a team with which he was associated for more than 60 years.

One of my earliest memories of Schoendienst involved the spelling of his name. Among the challenges hurled back and forth among my friends and I were the correct spelling of Mr. Schoendienst’s last name. Whomever could spell Mississippi, Cincinnati and Schoendienst without missing a beat had earned the status of “master speller.”

Many of my friends were fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and I had one close buddy who owned a Cardinals ball cap, the ultimate sign of team loyalty back in the day. That friend’s favorite ball player was Stan Musial, but Red Schoendienst wasn’t far behind.

Schoendienst was born in Germantown, Ill., about 40 miles from the present-day Busch Stadium. He died in Town and Country, Mo., a ritzy St. Louis suburb. Between those events, he became a beloved part of the Cardinals organization and there is a statue of him, along with one of his friend Stan Musial, in the Stadium complex.

Schoendienst broke in with the Cardinals in 1945 and was stationed in left field in the absence of Musial, who was serving in the military. When Musial resumed his post in left, Schoendienst became the St. Louis second baseman, and he stayed in that position the rest of his playing career.

In 1956, Schoendienst was traded to the New York Giants in a multi-player deal that sent New York’s Alvin Dark to the Cardinals. I had rooted for the Giants in the 1954 World Series and Dark was one of many, many favorites I had at the time. The next year Schoendienst was traded from the Giants to the Milwaukee Braves and I followed that move with interest. The Braves were making noise like that of a team that was on its way to winning a pennant. He joined a great team that had stars like Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock, Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette on its roster. Schoendienst became the glue that solidified the team and it went on to be the National League champion. Late in the summer the race was basically between the Brooklyn Dodgers, Milwaukee and Schoendienst’s old team—the Cardinals. The Dodgers faded in early August and the race was between St. Louis and Milwaukee with the Braves eventually winning by eight games.

I remember listening to a Cardinals broadcast when announcer Harry Caray made a case for Red Schoendienst being the most valuable player to the Braves that year, even though Aaron would go on to win the official MVP voting. Schoendienst, Caray said, was an inspirational leader that quietly helped keep his teammates focused.

The Braves won the 1957 World Series over the New York Yankees. The Braves again won the National League Pennant in 1958, but lost this time in the World Series to the Yankees.

After the 1958 Series, Schoendienst was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He had a lung partially removed and was told he would never play again. But he did return to play briefly for the Braves in 1960 and then for the Cardinals as a player-coach from 1961 through 1963. He retired as a player at the beginning of the 1964 season but stayed on as a coach. He was named manager of the Cardinals in 1965 and took them to two consecutive World Series in 1967 and 1968.

I have special remembrances of the 1967 and 1968 Cardinals since I lived only 110 miles from Busch Stadium in those years. I was able to go to a couple of games in 1968, but my main source of following progress of the team was via radio, namely over St. Louis station KMOX. The principal Cardinal announcers were Caray and Jack Buck and I heard many, many of their offerings in those years. Caray always was a colorful character, but Buck was my favorite. Always the consummate professional, Buck was able to relay the game story in a way that especially was pleasing to a longtime baseball fan such as myself.

The Cardinals of those years were loaded. For one thing, there was Bob Gibson as one of the starting pitchers. Gibson may have had the best year of any pitcher, at least in my lifetime, in 1968. He was almost unbeatable and he compiled an ERA of 1.12 which is ridiculously low. Besides extremely good stuff, Gibson had the intimidation factor going in his favor. He was one of those pitchers, as the saying goes, would “throw a fastball at their grandmother’s head if she were standing too close to the plate.”

Jim Ray Hart, who was a pretty good hitter for the Giants for a few years has been quoted with the following story of the first time he batted against Gibson.

“Between games (of a doubleheader), (Willie) Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you’re going up against Bob Gibson.’ I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it didn’t

RED SCHOENDIENST, in a 2009 appearance in a Cardinals uniform.

RED SCHOENDIENST, in a 2009 appearance in a Cardinals uniform.

make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and started digging a little hole with my back foot. No sooner did I start digging that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!’ Well, the first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have listened to Willie.”

In the 1968 World Series, Gibson pitched the first game against the Detroit Tigers and struck out 17 batters. The Cardinals had a 3-1 lead in the series after four games, but then Detroit came back to win the final three games and claim the series title. It hadn’t been Gibson’s fault—he pitched remarkably well in his outings. In the final game he was locked up in a pitching dual with Detroit’s Mickey Lolich. The score was tied 1-1 going into the seventh inning. Gibson allowed a couple of singles. Then Detroit’s Jim Northrup hit a long drive to center field that went over St. Louis’ Curt Flood’s head for a triple driving home what would be the winning runs. I remember Caray bemoaning the fact that Flood should have caught Northrup’s drive because on most other occasions, he would have been able to make the play.

Gibson bad been a tough pitcher in 1967, but he missed a bunch of that year with a broken leg. The injury occurred when he was pitching to Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente. Clemente hit a screaming line drive that hit Gibson on the shin bone. Gibson continued to play and after he had made three more pitches, his leg buckled as the fibula snapped right at the ankle.

In 1967, St. Louis had a good pitching staff beyond Gibson. Steve Carlton, Dick Hughes, Ray Washburn and Nelson Briles were used extensively.

There was a speedy outfield in Lou Brock, Flood and Bobby Tolan. Roger Maris was a member of the Cardinals, and I remember him getting a ton of clutch hits during the season.

Current Cardinal broadcaster Mike Shannon was at third base, the light-hitting Del Maxvill was at shortstop, Julian Javier was at second base and Orlando Cepeda was at first. Tim McCarver was the principal catcher. A pretty salty lineup to be sure.

In 1968, St. Louis had pretty much the same group of players. It was a pitcher’s year and besides Gibson, Carlton and Briles were very effective pitchers.

The Cardinals did not repeat in 1969. Cepeda had been traded to the Atlanta Braves for Joe Torre. Maris had retired and a young catcher, Ted Simmons, was splitting a lot of time with McCarver. The pitching corps still had Carlton, Gibson and Briles, but none of the three had years equal to the years they had in 1968.

The Chicago Cubs started 1969 as if it was their year and led the National League East for much of the season. The Cardinals began to make a move in mid-summer and I remember each time after a Cardinal victory, Caray would sing a little ditty: “The Cardinals are coming tra la, tra la, the Cardinals are coming tra la, tra la.” Then he would chortle in only the way he could and predict that St. Louis would wind up ahead of the Cubs before the year was out. The Cubs did lose to a surging team in September, but it wasn’t St. Louis that won. The New York Mets were the team that overcame Chicago that year, much to the chagrin of all the Cub fans I worked with.

By the way, that was the last year Caray worked for the St. Louis team. He was fired soon after the season ended with the official reason being that Budweiser sales had dropped off and Carey was blamed for the problem. Caray didn’t buy that reason. He was very open that he thought the reason he was fired was because there had been rumors circulating that he had had an affair with August Busch’s daughter-in-law. I never heard him confirm or deny whether there was truth in the rumors. Caray went on to work for the Oakland A’s for one season, for the Chicago White Sox for 10 years and then for the Cubs until his death.

Schoendienst was the quiet presence in those great Cardinal years. After his death last week, I saw a video that featured a number of players who had been on teams he managed.

To an individual, they said that he had been a players’ manager. “He just let us go out and play,” was a comment made several times. “He was there for us when we needed advice or some tips on how to improve, but he wasn’t pushy about it. He was a true baseball man and when he did speak you listened. You knew he would know what he was talking about.”

Undoubtedly the Cardinals organization will miss his presence. He was a Cardinal longer than almost anyone, including Stan Musial. It is difficult for me to think about St. Louis, the Cardinals or Busch Stadium without thinking about Schoendienst. He was a true baseball icon.

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