LITTLE ROCK — A fixture at St. Louis home games, Red Schoendienst inhabits the general manager’s digs, observing the action and sharing his take.
Occasionally, John Mozeliak has guests.
“They absolutely light up when they get a chance to meet him,” the GM said. “He has an infectious smile and he’s one of those guys, if you understand Cardinal history, you know Red Schoendienst.”
For gosh sakes, his statue is one of eight former Cardinals outside Busch Stadium.
Face to face with Schoendienst, many Mozeliak visitors “reflect on memories.”
I can relate.
An average-at-best second baseman in kid-league baseball, many summer days were consumed listening to the Cardinals and dreaming big. During those years, the shortstop might have been Solly Hemus or Alvin Dark, but Schoendienst was the middle man on 6-4-3 double plays.
Schoendienst hit second, I think. Right in front of Stan Musial.
“A lot of people are curious about his relationship with Stan,” Mozeliak said. “They love to hear him talk about the game, that’s what his great passion is.”
With the death of Musial in January, Schoendienst inherited the title of “greatest living Cardinal.” It was Musial who once described his long-time teammate as “having“the greatest pair of hands I’ve ever seen.” Six times, the St. Louis second baseman led the National League in fielding percentage.
Ironically, they were roommates on the road for 11 years, a relationship that began in 1946 when Musial needed a new roommate and traveling secretary Leo Ward suggested Schoendienst, who was in his second season with the Cardinals.
“We never did disagree on anything when we went on the road,” Schoendienst said a few years ago.
Impetus for catching up on Schoendienst occurred recently when a co-worker displayed a souvenir photo from a quick trip to a Cardinals game and wondered if I recognized the other guy.
Red Schoendienst, he said.
Some quick math said Schoendienst had to be in his late 80s. The man in the photo did not look a day past 70.
Turns out, Schoendienst is 90 and, before joining Mozeliak in the cool confines, he goes to his locker in the area of the clubhouse reserved for coaches, dons his uniform, and heads for the field. He might hit ground balls to the St. Louis infielders or hang out in the outfield conversing with players.
On his back is a 2, the number he wore when he was a 10-time National League All Star. The number was retired in 1996, seven years after he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. On the Cardinals’ payroll as a special assistant to the GM, Schoendiest traveled with the club until he was past 80.
Still involved in spring training, he drives a golf cart from field to field in Jupiter, Fla.
“He loves putting on the uniform and is very grateful for the opportunity,” Mozeliak said. “The great thing about Red is his appreciation for what happens from the first pitch on.”
An irreplaceable resource, Schoendienst played when there were 16 teams in Major League Baseball and managed during MLB expansion. Sandwiched between his 15 years as a Cardinal player, Schoendienst was teammates with Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Warren Spahn, and Eddie Mathews — all Hall of Famers. Easy to approach, coaches and players often seek his insight gleaned from eight decades in the major leagues.
“He is a very valuable mentor to so many players,” Mozeliak said.
Asked today, Schoendienst would repeat something he said in 2002: “I’ve got the perfect job. I enjoy the game. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.” A predictable quote from a man who was in his teens when he hitched a ride on a milk truck from Gemantown, Ill., for a tryout that led to a professional contract.
Participating physically and mentally in a game he loves at his age, Schoendienst is an inspiration to all of us past 60.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.