by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

ST. LOUIS — Sometimes you get kicked upstairs and sometimes you just move over a few seats. Red Schoendienst, who was fired by these Cardinals once upon a time, now sits on their bench, and, although the team is in the World Series, he goes virtually unnoticed. He came out Wednesday a few hours before Game 4, grabbed a fungo bat and walked to the field past dozens of reporters. No one even looked up.

Funny. If this were 20 years ago, he’d be the manager suffocating in microphones, as Whitey Herzog is now. If this were 40 years ago, he’d be the player suffocating in microphones, as Ozzie Smith is now.

Instead, he is a coach.

Few people are interested.

“Why didn’t you retire after managing?” someone asked the man who guided the Cardinals to a World Championship in 1967 with guys like Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. “Why not go out on top, say baseball was a fine career, and go fishing?”

He shrugged.

“You can only fish so long,” he said.

Red rolls on. He is paunchy now, 64 years old, the hair has turned white, and there’s not much of it. But he stretches and swings and the ball still pops off the bat. There are other stars on this team now. He warms them up.

“I had some opportunities to manage elsewhere,” he said, swinging, catching the ball, swinging again. “But this is where I live, this is where I want to stay. I managed 12 years. That’s enough. I like doing this, coaching. I’ll stay as long as they’ll have me . . . “

Baseball is a funny lover. It launches some people, and never lets go of others. How many players, how many household names, have worked under Schoendienst’s tutelage, and now surpass him financially and professionally? Why, on the Busch Stadium infield Wednesday, just 30 feet away, stood Tim McCarver, in an expensive overcoat, talking into a camera for ABC-TV. Red managed him for years. Up in the offices, in a suit and tie, was Dal Maxvill, now the general manager of this team. Red managed him for years. Outside the stadium is a statue of Stan Musial. Red — an All-Star second baseman in his time — was Musial’s roommate for more than a decade.

“How do you feel coming into work each day and seeing a statue of a guy you shared a bathroom with?” he was asked.

“Well,” he laughed, thinking about it, “I’ll tell you this. It’s the only time a pigeon ever dropped anything on Stan.”

Do you remember Schoendienst from 1968, when his Cardinals were foiled by a Detroit pitcher named Mickey Lolich in the seventh game of a World Series? Or maybe ’67, Cards over the Red Sox? Or maybe ’46? Whoa. Did we say ’46?

Yep. You can’t count how many times Red Schoendienst has put on a St. Louis uniform, how much time he has logged inside a St. Louis dugout. For a dozen years he actually had a desk (“they gave you one in the manager’s office”) but now he is back to a locker and a few hangers. No complaints.

As he smacked the fungo grounders to the infield, he was joined by six-year-old Aaron Herr, son of Cardinals’ second baseman Tommy Herr, dressed in full baseball uniform. The kid caught balls on a bounce, barely fitting them in his glove, then tossed them to Schoendienst. The old guy was nonplussed. “Nice catch,” he’d say as if he was talking to a regular player.

Baseball levels us all.

Here is probably the only man in the stadium who has done what all the other guys are trying to do — win a World Series — as a player, a manager and a coach. The cameras ignored him. They will ignore him tonight. “Ah, I never even think about that,” he said, smiling. Sometimes you get kicked upstairs, sometimes you move a few seats over.

“Hey, Red Man!” someone yelled. Schoendienst looked up to see a local photographer wearing an old-time fielder’s glove, a tiny leather thing with thin strings as webbing. Schoendienst laughed.

“I got one of those,” he said.

And he returned to the bat, anonymous in the World Series swarm, hitting grounders on this funny stuff called AstroTurf, and chatting with a six-year-old kid. He looked happy.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!