Red Schoendienst, Cardinals Star and Oldest Hall of Famer, Dies at 95

Red Schoendienst, who died on Wednesday, was, at 95, the oldest living member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Red Schoendienst, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame second baseman, manager and coach who had a major league career of more than 70 years, died on Wednesday night at his home in Town & Country, Mo., outside St. Louis. He was 95 and the oldest living member of the Hall.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Eileen Schless.

The epitome of the baseball lifer, Schoendienst became a revered figure in St. Louis. He first donned a Cardinals uniform at a tryout camp in 1942 — a red-haired, freckle-faced teenager from the Midwest who was later likened in the press to a latter-day Huckleberry Finn. At his death, Schoendienst was listed as a senior special assistant to the Cardinals’ general manager.

The Cardinals announced Schoendienst’s death with a scoreboard tribute in the third inning of their game with the Miami Marlins at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night. It received a standing ovation from the players and a crowd of more than 40,000.

Playing second base, his position for nearly his entire playing career, Schoendienst teamed with shortstop Marty Marion in a superb double-play combination, most notably on the 1946 Cardinals team that defeated the Boston Red Sox in a seven-game World Series. Bobby Doerr, Boston’s second baseman in that Series, had been the oldest surviving Hall of Famer, ahead of Schoendienst, when he died at 99 in November 2017.

“He wasn’t flashy, not a guy like Ozzie Smith and diving all over the place,” Marion told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1989. “Red was just always in the right place at the right time. He didn’t make many mistakes.”

Schoendienst’s Hall of Fame plaque quotes Stan Musial, his longtime teammate, as saying he had “the greatest pair of hands I’ve ever seen.”

With Schoendienst’s death, the oldest living Hall of Famer is now Tommy Lasorda, the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager. He is 90.

In April 1999, the Cardinals honored Schoendienst with a bronze likeness outside the old Busch Stadium depicting him in midair, pivoting on a double play. When the Cardinals played their final game at the stadium, in September 2005, Schoendienst caught the ceremonial first ball. His likeness now stands at the new Busch Stadium along with those of fellow Cardinals stars through the years.

“To Red Schoendienst, baseball was pure joy,” Red Smith once wrote in The New York Times. “He loved every minute of it, even those hit-and-run barnstorming tours that teams used to make on a two-week trip home from spring training.”

Playing in the National League from 1945 to 1963 — 15 of those seasons with the Cardinals — Schoendienst was a 10-time All-Star.

A switch-hitter who set the stage for Musial in the lineup, Schoendienst hit .300 seven times and had 2,449 career hits. His most memorable at-bat came in the 1950 All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago, when he connected for the game-winning home run in the 14th inning. His best season at the plate was 1953, when he hit .342; he was the runner-up for the batting title to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Carl Furillo, who hit .344.

After serving as a Cardinals coach, Schoendienst succeeded Johnny Keane as manager only days after Keane took St. Louis to a seven-game World Series victory over the Yankees in 1964, then quit to replace Yogi Berra as the Yankees’ manager. Schoendienst managed the Cardinals from 1965 to 1976, then had stints as an interim manager in 1980 and 1990. He managed the Cardinals to a World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox in 1967 and another pennant in 1968, when they lost to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989 by the Veterans Committee.

Albert Fred Schoendienst was born on Feb. 2, 1923, in Germantown, Ill., some 40 miles east of St. Louis. His father, Joe, was a coal miner and caught for a sandlot baseball team. His mother, Mary, was a homemaker.

He signed a $75-a-month contract with the Cardinals’ minor league system in 1942 and made his major league debut in April 1945 after being discharged from stateside Army service because of eye and shoulder problems. That year, playing left field, he led the National League in stolen bases with 26.

Schoendienst remained a key figure for the Cardinals until June 1956, when he was traded to the New York Giants in a multiplayer deal that also sent Jackie Brandt, a young outfielder, to New York and brought shortstop Alvin Dark and first baseman Whitey Lockman to St. Louis.

“Red was the toughest to give up,” Frank Lane, the Cardinals’ general manager, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. “He’s the type of ballplayer who could go out and make five errors in a row and the fans wouldn’t be mad at him.”

A year and a day after that, the Giants dealt Schoendienst to the Milwaukee Braves.

He led the National League in hits in the 1957 season with 200, helping propel the Braves to a World Series victory over the Yankees.

“A lot of people credited that trade with being the difference that helped them win it,” Joe Torre told The Kansas City Star in 1993, when Torre was managing the Cardinals and Schoendienst was his bench coach. “He was a sparkplug kind of guy, a leader.”

Schoendienst felt poorly for much of the 1958 season, though he hit .300 in the World Series, when the Yankees beat the Braves. In November 1958, he was found to have tuberculosis, and the following February a portion of his right lung was removed. He was sidelined until September 1959.

Notwithstanding his affable ways, Schoendienst had a steel will. He had overcome a severe eye injury from an accident while working for the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps as a teenager, and he later surmounted a chronically sore shoulder. He was determined to continue playing upon recovering from tuberculosis.

He was a backup with the Braves in 1960, then returned to the Cardinals, playing sparingly but proving an effective pinch-hitter and also serving as a coach. He retired as a player during the 1963 season with a career batting average of .289.

In his 14 years as the Cardinals’ manager, including his two tenures as an interim manager, he took a low-key approach, refraining from public criticism of his players. He posted a record of 1,041 victories and 955 losses.

After being fired following the 1976 season, he was a coach with the Oakland A’s for two years, then returned to the Cardinals as a coach once more.

In addition to his daughter Ms. Schless, he is survived by two other daughters, Colleen Schoendienst and Cathleen Reifsteck; his son, Kevin; a brother, Joseph; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. His wife, the former Mary O’Reilly, died in 1999.

When Schoendienst was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he told of his long love affair with baseball.

“All I ever wanted was to be on that lineup card every day and become a champion,” he said. “Baseball has been my only job. I still get a thrill putting on that uniform and to hear those wonderful words, ‘Play ball.’ ”

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