Even in the twilight of a long, wonderful life, Red Schoendienst seemed happiest on those warm, resplendent spring mornings when he would slip into his Cardinals uniform one more time and head to the back fields to watch the fresh young faces prepare for a new season.Or maybe he'd mingle
Even in the twilight of a long, wonderful life, Red Schoendienst seemed happiest on those warm, resplendent spring mornings when he would slip into his Cardinals uniform one more time and head to the back fields to watch the fresh young faces prepare for a new season.
Or maybe he'd mingle around one of the batting cages and say hello to the veterans and soak in the sweet sights and sounds of the game that was his life. When he returned to Jupiter, Fla., this spring, he started adding 'em all up and decided this was his 72nd camp.
• Hall of Famer Schoendienst dies at 95
Fans? He seemed to know all of 'em, whether they'd driven in from Little Rock or Timbuktu, and, "Hey, Red, remember when my cousin and I ran into you that day in Cincinnati?"
Sure, Red remembered. That was his magic. That's why he was Mr. Cardinal. He gave more than autographs. He gave his time. He listened to the stories of how he was someone's grandfather's favorite player from years ago or how he'd been nice to a kid in 1966.
Schoendienst, who died Wednesday at 95, connected countless generations of Cardinals baseball players, fans and owners during more than 60 years with the franchise, including 15 as a player, 14 as a manager and another 18 as a coach.
He was the oldest living Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor now bestowed on Willie Mays, 87.
For Cardinals fans, it's a day to grieve, but also a day to celebrate an amazing journey. Schoendienst's life was one of accomplishment and celebration, one in which he would remind anyone willing to listen that wearing the Cardinals uniform for as long as he did was an honor he simply could not put into words.
He was a beloved figure in a city in which baseball season runs roughly 365 days a year. He played with Stan Musial and Ken Boyer and with Enos Slaughter and Marty Marion. Schoendienst managed Bob Gibson and Orlando Cepeda.
Schoendienst won two World Series as a player (1946 Cardinals and '57 Braves) and another as a manager ('67 Cardinals). He also managed the Cardinals to another National League championship in '68, which ended with a Game 7 loss to the Tigers in a World Series that will be talked about forever.
Schoendienst wore the Cardinals uniform for 3,794 regular-season games as a player and manager and another 3,000 or so as a coach. He was a 10-time All-Star as a player, and when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989, he was welcomed by Musial, his teammate, roommate and friend.
Schoendienst's third act spanned the final two decades of his life, that as part-time spring instructor and one of baseball's great ambassadors, someone who loved the game with all his heart and soul and represented the very best of the sport.
As former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "He was one of the most beautiful individuals you'd ever want to meet. In every way, he was beautiful."
Schoendienst excelled as a player because he had quick hands and the instincts of a great infielder. As a manager, he had that rare ability to take the pulse of his team and understand what needed to be said.
Schoendienst mostly was himself, and isn't that about the highest compliment anyone can receive? He was humble and decent and honest. He loved to laugh. He was gracious with his time.
He made every single player, fan, coach, reporter or owner feel that the time he spent with them was the best part of his day.
Sure, the Cardinals have had better players. No one will ever approach Musial in terms of accomplishment and popularity. No Cardinal will ever more respected than Gibson.
Jose Pujols was a generational type player who came to define a franchise for a time. But in terms of touching people and connecting Cardinals fans of all ages, Schoendienst had few peers.
"His influence on this organization cannot be overstated," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a statement.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.