Red Schoendienst was dedicated to life, baseball, and the Cardinals

(Original Caption) St. Petersburg, Florida: Photo shows Red Schoendienst, St. Louis Cardinals, one of the best glove men in the National League, gets all gloved up.
(Original Caption) St. Petersburg, Florida: Photo shows Red Schoendienst, St. Louis Cardinals, one of the best glove men in the National League, gets all gloved up. /

Red Schoendienst, the Hall of Famer who spent decades with the St. Louis Cardinals as a player and manager, died Wednesday at the age of 95.

Red Schoendienst was an American original.

The Hall of Fame player and manager, who spent 67 years as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, died Wednesday at the age of 95. The Cardinals announced his death during their game against the Miami Marlins, with “1923-2018” shown on the scoreboard.

His connection with the Cardinals began at a young age. Alfred Fred Schoendienst was born on February 2, 1923 in Germantown, Illinois, a small town just outside of St. Louis. Growing up with five brothers and a sister, “Red” was a diehard Cardinals fan. In 1942, the 19-year-old Schoendienst heard the Cardinals were holding tryouts, so he hitchhiked with two friends to St. Louis. When the Cardinals offered him a contract for $75 a month, it began a relationship with the team that would last the rest of his life.

Schoendienst was called up to the Major Leagues in 1945 at a time when many of the star players were still serving in World War II. Over the next 19 years, 15 of them with the Cardinals, he would play in more than 2,200 games and collect 2,449 hits. A 10-time All-Star, Schoendienst’s best season came in 1953, when he hit .342 with 15 home runs and 79 RBI. An outstanding second baseman, he led the National League in fielding seven times.

He won his first World Series with the Cardinals in 1946, and another in 1957 with the Milwaukee Braves. After his retirement Schoendienst joined the Cardinals as a coach, winning another World Series in 1964. Hired as the Cardinals manager in 1965, he led the team to back-to-back National League pennants in 1967 and 1968, winning the championship over the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox in seven games in 1967.

Schoendienst continued serving the Cardinals as a special instructor even after being fired as manager. Into his 80s he would put on his uniform and hit ground balls to infielders during batting practice. He is the common link that connects decades of Cardinals baseball. He played with Stan Musial, managed Bob Gibson, and mentored Albert Pujols.

Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, Schoendienst never forgot how he got his start. “I never thought that milk truck ride would eventually lead to Cooperstown and baseball’s highest honor,” he said in his induction speech, recalling the trip he made to Cardinals tryouts 57 years earlier. “I would play any position my manager asked. Whatever it took to win, I was willing to do. All I ever wanted was to be on that lineup card and become a champion.”

At his death he was the oldest living Hall of Famer. That distinction now belongs to 89-year-old Whitey Ford.

It was his connection with Cardinals fans that left the biggest impression. He was the consummate baseball ambassador, someone who loved the game and made it his life. The Cardinals retired his No. 2 jersey in 1996, and unveiled a bronze statue of him in 1999. “They made me better looking,” he joked.

Tony La Russa, who managed the Cardinals for 16 years, saw first-hand how much Schoendienst meant to the team and the game. “He was one of the most beautiful individuals you’d ever want to meet. In every way, he was beautiful,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“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” Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a statement.

Schoendienst gave baseball everything he had, and the game rewarded him. “Everything I have in my life I owe to baseball. I’ve been lucky in so many ways, making a career out of something I loved to do as a kid,” he wrote in his 1998 autobiography, Red: A Baseball Life. “It’s been a good, long ride. And I’ve had a lot of fun.”

The ride is over, but Cardinals fans will not forget it.