February 02, 2011
Big League Stew honors one birthday boy per week by taking a longer look at his career. Players will be culled from both past and present.
Hall of Famer Albert Fred "Red" Schoendienst was an old-school player in the best possible sense.
Let's start with his nickname, "Red." It isn't one of these namby-pamby newfangled nicknames that combine the first initial of the first name with the first syllable of the last name, like A-Rod or B-Mac or J-Hey. It's a real no-nonsense nickname, the kind we don't give anyone anymore.
Then there's his last name. It's German and it hearkens back to a time when there were many more German-Americans in the majors. (Schoendienst was even born in Germantown, Illinois.)
He even got old-school injuries. As a teenager, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, and suffered a major eye injury; he begged doctors to leave the eye in, and not long after, he signed his first professional contract with the Cardinals in 1942. A couple of years later, while playing baseball after having been drafted into the army, he suffered a shoulder injury on a headfirst slide. As he wrote in his autobiography, it was "diagnosed as a shallow shoulder socket, and it occasionally would pop out of place."
In 1958, Schoendienst helped lead the Braves to a pennant, "despite bruised ribs, a broken finger, and pleurisy." In 1959, he suffered from tuberculosis and lost part of his lung. This tubercular man with poor vision and a shoulder that occasionally popped out became a 10-time All-Star, one of the best second basemen of the 1950's, and one of the best managers in Cardinals history.
He was a decent, unspectacular hitter — though he hit for a good batting average and rarely struck out, he didn't walk much and didn't have much power -- but he was a terrific fielder, something his peers clearly realized when they kept sending him back to the Midsummer Classic. After playing 15 years in a Cardinal uniform, he managed the team for another 14 years, 12 straight seasons from 1965 to 1976, and then again for stretches in 1980 and 1990. (The 1990 Cardinals were a rather remarkable team: They finished 70-92 despite being managed by three different managers who won more than 1,000 games -- Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog and Joe Torre. That's the only time any team has ever been managed by three thousand-game winners in a single season.) As a manager, he finished with an overall record of 1,041-955, 50th on the all-time managerial wins list, and a World Championship in 1967 as well as another pennant in 1968.
A Cardinal legend, Schoendienst was never flashy, just always reliable. Sure, Stan Musial and Albert Pujols(notes) are the two greatest players in Cards history, but few people have given more of their life to the Redbirds than Red Schoendienst.
Best Year 1953: 146 G, .342/.405/.502, 15 HR, 79 RBIs, 60 BB, 23 K, 6.5 WAR
Schoendienst went nuts in '53, setting career highs in pretty much every offensive category, and finishing fourth in the MVP voting, one of only two times that he finished in the top five. (In 1957, he tied his career high in homers en route to leading the Milwaukee Braves to a world championship, and he finished third in the MVP vote — but his performance wasn't nearly as good as it had been in 1953.)
Perennially one of the best defensive second basemen in the league, he batted second in front of Stan Musial, where his best skill at the plate had always been his ability to avoid striking out. He never struck out more than 32 times in a season. In 1953, he made contact with everything and almost everything fell in, as he finished second in batting average and second in at-bats per strikeout. He only hit .300 three other times in his career, and only hit double-digit homers two other times in his career. But in 1953, it all fell into place.
Worst Year 1958: 106 G, .262/.313/.328, 1 HR, 24 RBIs, 31 BB, 21 K
No, it's not fair. The man had cracked ribs, pleurisy and tuberculosis, for crying out loud. Of course his stats went down. But he was a gamer, and didn't want to take himself out of the lineup, and he played more than 100 games for the World Series-bound Braves. He was actually one of their best hitters in the Series, tying Henry Aaron with nine hits in seven games. While two of Henry's hits went for extra bases, Red knocked three doubles and a triple against the Yankees. But it was a brutal regular season for the 37-year-old, as he simply ignored the pain in his wheezing body and kept going out to play.
Claim to Fame In 1989, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; in 1998, he was elected to the St. Louis Walk of Fame; in 2009, he was elected to the International League Hall of Fame, as he won the International League MVP in 1943. In 1996, the Cardinals retired his No. 2. He is currently a special assistant to Cardinal general manager John Mozeliak, making this the eighth decade of his involvement with the Cardinals. The eighth decade.
Happy birthday, Red Schoendienst!