In a wacky sports universe that, these days, contains more controversies, inconsistencies, free agencies and more bad food choices than one should stomach, it was nice knowing that there was always one small constant that brought stability in an athletic world that, at times, seemed unkind.
One could always assume that somewhere in the Gateway City, Red Schoendienst would, somehow, some way, be seen in a St. Louis Cardinals’ uniform at Busch Stadium or at least wear team colors at a local function.
That warm, fuzzy fixture was brought to a sudden stop Wednesday night with the Major League Baseball Hall of Famer’s death at age 95 at his Town and Country residence.
With his passing now comes casual, and respectful, discussion of his legacy, which no one denies wasn’t magnificent overall, but one has to critically assess his placement within the positional hierarchy for all-time players that donned the “birds on bat” jersey.
To the point, where does the retired #2 place in the “Best Ever” complexion within the franchise?
Since Red retired his 19-year playing career in 1963, it’s somewhat hard for a majority of today’s younger members of Cardinal Nation to connect. After all, if one was born during his final year on the diamond, they would be aged 55 today. So realistically, anyone who remembers seeing #2 at second base is currently a card-carrying member of the AARP.
I guess to look at Red’s cred, it’s actually easier to SUBTRACT years not affiliated with the Redbirds rather than add his tours of local duty. We won’t pick nits seasonally by dissecting months and round to whole numbers.
Using his base of 95 years, we’ll start with subtracting 19 years spent living as a youth/teen before being signed by then-St. Louis scout Joe Mathes to a $75 monthly contract in 1942. So that initial minus tabulation results in 76 years actively spent in Cardinal baseball.
After toiling, and prospering, in the minors, Schoendienst plays his first major league game with St. Louis on April 17, 1945. In a 12-season stretch, he was named to the All-Star team nine times (1946 and 1948 though 1955) while being a member of the team that won a World Series title in 1946. No years subtracted so we’re still at 76.
The next season, Schoendienst was involved in a 3-for-1 trade with Milwaukee. At the Wisconsin base, he helped the Braves claim their first World Series pennant in nine years and finished third in MVP voting during that sprint. He eventually spent four seasons there, although being sidetracked by tuberculosis, before leaving in 1960. So subtract four years from 75, resulting in 71.
He rejoined the Cardinals in 1961 as a pinch hitter before becoming a player/coach in the 1962 and 1963 seasons. He retired after the 1963 campaign after a stellar 19-year career. No years lost, so we’re still at 71.
He served alongside then-Cardinal coach Johnny Keane as St. Louis won the 1964 World Series and then took over the top role in 1965. He proceeded with a 12-season managerial career, which included a 1967 World Series trophy ending in 1976. At this point we’re still at 71 years.
Red went to Oakland for a two-year coaching stint with the Athletics in the 1977 and 1978 seasons. A minus two puts him at 69 years.
He returned to the Cardinals as a coach and special assistant to the General Manager in 1979 and stayed tight with the operation upon subsequent seasons. He was a game-day assistant in the Redbirds’ 1982 World Series title win.
As time passed, his active, on-field involvement lessened but he was still employed by the organization as specialist coach and, quite more accurately, defined as a goodwill ambassador for the franchise up until his passing. So from 1979 to today’s date, that’s 39 years with no years lost on our ledger.
So using this basic mathematics, Schoendienst has been involved in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization for 69 of his 95 years on this planet before he left us Wednesday.
With the stats in front of us, should Schoendienst be designated as the “Greatest Cardinal That Ever Played”? I’m currently torn. That might be a debatable topic over the next couple of days because one could easily put Stan Musial at the forefront of that list as well as Ozzie Smith, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and a plethora of others. A good discussion to have.
But should Schoendienst be considered the “Greatest Cardinal Ever” as if to imply that one’s role extends beyond a playing capacity and encompasses on-field work, coaching and marketing goodwill over a period of time?
Sixty-nine years affiliated with an organization is pretty mind-boggling. Some of us just hope to reach sixty-nine years of personal existence. Due to the length of tenure in numerous capacities, I’m feeling my vote right now would be “yes.”
What’s your take? We welcome your comments.