Updated with the links to Baseball Digest and El Maquino.
Today is Red’s birthday.
I suspect that Baseball Digest will have has a story up today on him (they have been doing a birthday post every day of the off-season), and El Maquino will have has a post up on Red as well. I wanted to share some thoughts on him as well.
Red was born in Germantown, Illinois in 1923. In 1942 he went to an open tryout the Cardinals ran at Sportman’s Park. Back in those days, virtually everyone played baseball, although many men didn’t play organized ball as we know it now (minor leagues). Many towns had teams, or sponsored teams, and barnstormed around the local area playing. I’m sure at some level a bunch of local towns banded together to form a local league. You know – Chico’s Bail Bonds Bears, only with baseball players. Some of those guys were pretty good, but had not gotten the chance to perform before a pro scout so were never heard of.
Although I’m sure teams in the 30s and 40s employed scouts looking for talent, they couldn’t be everywhere. So, most major league teams ran open tryouts once or twice a year. There, anyone who thought he was any good could show up and be evaluated by the Cardinal staff. It’s kind of brilliant, when you think about it – instead of paying a scout to find the players, you entice the players to come to you. Of the many thousands who tried out, as many thousands had no realistic shot of making it into the organization at any level.
Red Schoendienst bucked the odds. He went to that open tryout, and the Cardinals signed him to a minor league contract, sending him to Union City TN, where he played 6 games before the league folded. He then went to Albany GA. The next season he was MVP of the International League. He spent a year on active duty, started the 1945 season with St Louis, and played in the big leagues until 1963. You know the rest – manager for the Cardinals on several occasions (1965-1976, and as an interim skipper in 1980 and 1990). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Here’s where our paths cross. In 1995 a very good friend of mine dragged me to a Padres/Cardinals game. I didn’t want to go. I know that’s hard to believe – I didn’t want to go to a baseball game, even a Cardinal game. After the strike of 1994, however, and like many, many other fans, I’d pretty much soured on the whole sport. She talked me into going. I’ve talked about this game before: 6,743 fans in the building, you could hear every heckle, and we sat down the third base line close enough to almost touch the Padres coaching staff. It was a great baseball game, the Padres winning in the bottom of the ninth.
Before those April and May games in 1995, the players went out of their way to greet fans – be it at the turnstyles (which some clubs did on opening day), or by signing autographs. Lots of autographs. At that 1995 game, Ozzie Smith worked the third base line from the foul pole to the dugout. How many times does one have a chance to get Ozzie Smith’s autograph? I had picked up a ball during batting practice, and held it out for Ozzie to sign. He did.
I’m fairly confident I went the next night too, bringing the same ball with me. During BP that night, and after Red finished hitting fungoes, he turned towards the Cardinal dugout. I asked him if he’d sign a ball for me. He said yes, and I tossed him the ball that Ozzie had already signed.
There are three Cardinal second basemen and one Cardinal shortstop in the Hall of Fame. By 1995 Frankie Frisch and Rogers Hornsby had long since passed away, leaving one living HOF keystone combination; I managed to get their autographs on the same ball on successive days in 1995. I gave the ball to my Dad that year as a birthday present.
It seems trite, but my father really liked that ball. I remain grateful to Ozzie Smith and Red Schoendienst for signing it.
Happy Birthday, Red.