La Russa, Schoendienst toss first pitches with longtime employees helping
ST. LOUIS -- Playoff games in St. Louis are always star-studded events attended by some of the most decorated figures in Cardinals history. That includes Hall of Famers and likely future Hall of Famers, invited back to throw out ceremonial first pitches and send a few pope-like waves to an adoring Busch Stadium crowd that appreciates its past as much as its present.
Tony La Russa and Red Schoendienst have 2,449 wins and three World Series championships between them and were the guiding force behind most of the Cardinals' best times. That's saying a lot, given this franchise's rich history and tradition of winning. On Saturday, they were front and center near home plate prior to Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, throwing first pitches as the two winningest managers in Cards history.
For La Russa, the experience was much more meaningful given the support staff that surrounded them as part of the pregame ceremony. He was quick to point out three longtime employees that would present the baseballs and/or catch the pitches -- traveling secretary C.J. Cherre, director of Major League admininstration Judy Carpenter Barada and video coordinator Chad Blair -- illustrating that loyalty and continuity throughout play an important role in any winning organization.
"The success of this organization is very high and it's deep, and it's going to be represented out there today," La Russa said.
He should know. During his tenure as the Cardinals' skipper from 1996-2011, La Russa's teams won 1,408 games, three pennants and two World Series titles.
Schoendienst, who managed the Cards from 1965-76, won the NL pennant in 1967 and '68 and the World Series in '67, was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee in 1989.
Schoendienst is still a part of the Cardinals family to this day, serving as a special assistant to the general manager and an everyday presence at Cards home games through Spring Training, the regular season and the playoffs.
At age 90, Schoendienst is still in uniform during batting practice and provides valuable baseball knowledge to anyone who asks, from the coaching staff to the players. That's not an unusual occurrence; Busch Stadium is often teeming with former players and Hall of Famers still active with the team in some capacity.
"All your ex-players that have been playing for the Cardinals, with Gussie Busch, Anheuser-Busch owning the club, and now our new owners, they always have the old-timers come back in some capacity where they appreciate what they've done and everything," Schoendienst said. "I know we've talked about it. And [Bob] Gibson last night, he said it's always great to come back."
La Russa had no history with St. Louis until he arrived as skipper, having managed in Chicago and Oakland before taking over the Cardinals 17 years ago. It's hard to imagine a time, however, when he wasn't a part of the St. Louis scene, a fact driven home every time he speaks with reverence about the Cards' tradition and the legendary figures that have cemented this franchise's place in Major League history.
Looking over at Schoendienst, La Russa rattled off a host of familiar names that have contributed to the Cardinals' history over time.
"You get over here and it was Red and Stan [Musial]," La Russa said. "I mean, they're perfect. They were champions on the field, off the field ... respect the game and respect the fans. I remember getting here it was Red, George Kissel, Jack Buck, Mike Shannon. Those guys pull you aside and they tell you what the history is and what your responsibility is to keep it going."
And count La Russa among Schoendienst's biggest fans.
"I always told him to be careful when I see him," La Russa chuckled. "'I'll kiss you right on the lips.'"
Besides the ceremonial first pitches, the pregame ceremony included the presentation of colors by the United States Marines Recruiting Station, St. Louis. The anthem was performed by "American Idol" season 12 Top 10 finalist and St. Louis native Curtis Finch Jr.