On the 70th anniversary of his first game with the St. Louis Cardinals, 92-year-old Red Schoendienst remembered those who have contributed to his longevity.
“I owe a lot to a lot of people for being around as long as I have – 70 years in baseball,” Schoendienst, a Germantown native, said Friday night after a pregame ceremony at Busch Stadium. “People who took care of me as far as your trainers and doctors and everybody else, on and off the field. My family and everything.”
Schoendienst debuted with the Cardinals on April 17, 1945, at Wrigley Field in Chicago against the Cubs. And while he acknowledges not remembering many things that occurred in his 19-year Hall of Fame career, Schoendienst has solid recall of his first game.
“I made an error in left field,” he said. “Phil Cavaretta hit a line drive and ... it got by me somehow, I guess, and I got an error. But I think I did hit a triple in that game.”
Schoendienst, who converted to second base in 1946 when Stan Musial returned from World War II, also remembered making an error in his first professional game in 1942, when he was playing for Albany, Ga., in the Georgia-Florida League.
“When I signed my first contract professionally, they sent me to D ball, which is the bottom of the barrel. If you go any lower, you’re back home. I remember that,” Schoendienst said. “And I remember making an error in that first ballgame. I saw that Mr. (Branch) Rickey was there at the time. He was general manager and part owner with Mr. (Sam) Breadon.
“He was sitting there (after the game) in that little old clubhouse that was there in Union City, Tenn., and he says, ‘Young man, you’re a great ballplayer. I know you made some errors, but you’re going to make a lot more errors before you get out of the game.’ He made me feel pretty good. I thought I was going back home, but I stayed, and I’m still here.”
Schoendienst said his family always was there to get him through the difficult times. Schoendienst and his late wife, Mary, had three daughters and a son.
“You go 0-for-4 a few times and have a bad game where you think you should have won the game and you come home and there’s your little girl or your little boy giving you a big hug,” Schoendienst said. “That will take the pressure off you.
“All in all, 70 years to remember everything ... I remember it’s great to be in the World Series. That’s what you go to spring training for.”
Schoendienst spent countless hours on the ball diamonds of Germantown, honing his skills against many other talented players. Baseball is what kids did in Germantown and other communities in Clinton County in the early 1920s, 1930s and beyond.
“I like baseball,” Schoendienst said. “This is the only thing I knew how to do.
“There’s been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of good things that happened to me, and a lot of things you wish could have went the other way. But that’s part of the game.”
Schoendienst noticed the buttons fans were wearing to honor him at Busch Stadium.
“The fans, I see they have a button on, ‘We love Red,’” Schoendienst said. “Well, I love you all, too. The fans have always been great. The Cardinals have always had great fans, no matter where you went and what city you played in. They always had a great following because they always had great players.”
Schoendienst missed spring training because of an illness. But he has remained in good overall health, and his mind remains sound.
“I’m pretty lucky, I’m telling you,” Schoendienst said. “About a month ago, I didn’t feel like it, I’ll tell you that. I was pretty well under the weather. I bounced back, and I hope I keep bouncing back for a while. I want to win one more World Series. I hope it’s this year.”
Rest for regulars
The season is less than two weeks old and there is no urgency to rest the regulars, but Cardinals manager Mike Matheny also wants to keep his role players as sharp as possible.
To that end, reserves like Tony Cruz, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, Pete Kozma and Mark Reynolds can be expected to get some starts during the Cardinals’ 20-games-in-20-days stretch that begins Tuesday in Washington.
Bourjos, noticeably, has had little time on the field. He had appeared in five games through Thursday, but had logged just two pinch-hit at-bats. Bourjos has two steals.
“He’s handling it well so far, but it’s tough,” Matheny said. “Every one of these guys wants to play. All of them play this game to play, not to be a ‘just in case.’”
Reynolds said Thursday that he doesn’t mind his role as a backup to first baseman Matt Adams, emphasizing that he was aware of the situation when he signed a free-agent contract.
Matheny said that’s just Reynolds being a professional.
“He knows what to say,” Matheny said. “That’s part of the gig, too. But you can see he’s staying sharp. That ball he drove in the gap (Thursday), that looked like Mark Reynolds. We’re going to keep getting him those at-bats as often as we can.”
Kozma had received one at-bat in two games after leading the Cardinals with 20 hits and a .408 average during the Grapefruit League.
Heyward to be recognized
New right fielder Jason Heyward on Sunday will be presented with the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award from his play last season with the Atlanta Braves.
Heyward was not only rated the best right fielder in baseball, but the best defensive player overall. The Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award began in 2012. Winners are determined using a formula that combines traditional defensive stats with advanced metrics, as well as the data logged by the baseball experts working for the scouting service Inside Edge.
Other award-winners from last season are: Johnny Cueto, pitcher, Cincinnati; Russell Martin, catcher, Pittsburgh; Adrian Gonzalez, first base, Los Angeles Dodgers; Ian Kinsler, second base, Detroit; Juan Uribe, third base, Los Angeles Dodgers; Andrelton Simmons, shortstop, Atlanta; Alex Gordon, left field, Kansas City; and Lorenzo Cain, center field, Kansas City.
The Defensive Team of the Year was the Cincinnati Reds.
Price revisits Heyward slide
Reds manager Bryan Price, who accused Heyward of making a “dirty” slide into third base Sunday in Cincinnati, didn’t back off his comments Friday.
“I’m not going to take it back,” Price said. “I also said I know the kid is not a dirty player. I understand he said something to (Todd) Frazier which puts a little bit of a salve on it. That being said, certain things that are going to get under your skin, and that got under my skin.”
Price said the Reds can put the issue behind them by winning the weekend series against the Cardinals, who are 13-2 in the last 15 series against Cincinnati.
Since August 2006, the Reds are 1-20-1 in 22 series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium III, including eight consecutive series losses.
“The response can be that we come in here and win some games,” Price said. “I’d like to come in here and play well, play strong, play hard. Come in with some attitude.
“The kid didn’t slide in there with the intent to injure Frazier. It was an awkward slide. That being said, anybody would be upset at that play. Wouldn’t matter what team. (He) put Fraizer in a position to be hurt, and nobody wants to see that. I was extremely upset by that, and rightfully so. Anybody would have been.”