ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – He’s still the coolest guy in the room.
As he enters the broadcast booth at Busch Stadium – looking dapper with a jacket and slacks, hair combed just right – one of the greatest Cardinals to ever walk the planet is on his cell phone. He takes a few items from a nearby snack plate, says a few words but mostly listens to the person on the other end of the call. He hangs up and notices me sitting to his right.
“How are you,” Red Schoendienst says as he extends his hand to me and smiles. “Good to see you.”
And then the man who sees a different game than me settles into his seat. It’s time for some baseball.
Red Schoendienst, 95, was born on Feb. 2, 1923, and is currently the oldest living member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He made his debut in 1945, filling in for Stan Musial, who became one of Red’s closest friends inside and outside the game.
“In order to be a big leaguer on the field, you had to be a big leaguer off the field … and Stan was just that,” Schoendienst once said about Musial.
Schoendienst led the league in stolen bases that season (26). The following year he went to his first of 10 All-Star Games as a second baseman and the Cardinals won the World Series. Not a bad start for the kid from Germantown, Ill., who eventually would be a part of six more world championships. He captured one with the Milwaukee Braves, in 1957, before a long successful run with the Cardinals (1964, 1967, 1982, 2006, 2011) as a manager, coach and special assistant.
“He really represents the face of the Cardinals franchise and has for many years,” chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. told me about Schoendienst at the 2016 St. Louis BBWAA Dinner.Seventy-three years, to be exact. And for the longest time, spring training wouldn’t feel right until Schoendienst was seen driving his golf cart around the team complex, surveying the scene. Then he’d grab a fungo bat and hammer grounders to infielders.
Schoendienst’s age limits him from such activity these days, but he’s still known to get together with close friends for some hunting and camaraderie.
“Whether it’s in a duck blind or going out to dinner, this is a guy who is just so relevant,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told me after reminiscing about one of his excursions with Schoendienst. “To be the age that he is, and still just as cool as he is, it’s just a pleasure to be around Red Schoendienst.”
One thing is for certain: Schoendienst is energized by the people of St. Louis and the genuine appetite for baseball. I visited with the Hall of Famer on the field one afternoon and he gave me this gem of a thought:
“I was pretty fortunate to come up with the Cardinals,” Schoendienst said. “I’ve been here all of my baseball career, except for about four (or) five years, and I enjoyed everything. Although there’s a lot of change … owners, different managers … all in all it carries through.
“I think the fans have a lot to do with it in St. Louis, how they go about everything. They’ve got a pretty good idea how the ballgame should be played. And I think that’s what makes them good fans.”
Red Schoendienst turns 95 today, folks. Enjoy every moment.