What I’m Reading: Red – A Baseball Life

It’s possible that no one experienced more St. Louis Cardinals history than Red Schoendienst.

He was a through line for Cardinals baseball, connecting the Cardinals through the decades. Through Schoendienst, Cardinals fans could draw a straight line from 1940s and ‘50s stars such as Stan Musial, Marty Marion, Enos Slaughter, Harry Brecheen, and Terry Moore to stars of the ‘60s like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Bill White, Curt Flood, and Ken Boyer.

When Whitey Herzog remade the Cardinals around speed and defense with Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, and Bruce Sutter, Schoendienst was there. From Joe Torre in the ‘90s to Tony La Russa’s power-packed teams with stars like Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, and Mark McGwire, Schoendienst was there too.

In Red: A Baseball Life, published in 1998, Schoendienst tells his own story, recounting how he nearly lost his eye as a 16-year-old while trying to hammer a staple into a hedgepost for the Civilian Conservation Corps. The accident left him with 20/200 vision in the eye, but he still managed to impress the Cardinals at a tryout camp.

Schoendienst describes his first game as a professional, a minor-league game in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in which he allowed a ninth-inning ground ball to go through his legs, then made a throwing error trying to get the hitter out at home. After the game, Branch Rickey, who had been watching the game, came down to the clubhouse and comforted Red.

Later, Schoendienst recalls being called up to Triple-A, where Pepper Martin was the manager. Martin, whose team wasn’t playing well, was enraged when he saw that the Cardinals had sent him reinforcements in the form of the small, gangly Schoendienst, and upon meeting his new infielder told Red that he already had enough bat boys.

Schoendienst’s voice comes through as he recounts his life in baseball. His brings a modest Midwestern charm to his storytelling, and so there isn’t much bragging about his accomplishments. In fact, he goes into far more detail about his young days just learning to play professional baseball than he does his all-star seasons or the accomplishments that earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame. If he didn’t spend time talking about the induction ceremony and how nervous he was to give his speech, the reader could be forgiven for failing to realize just how accomplished a player Schoendienst actually was.

Schoendienst’s unassuming manner and the sheer quantity of personalities and franchise milestones he witnessed mean he doesn’t spend too much time diving into any one aspect of Cardinals history. Nonetheless, the book includes a forward from Musial and a few paragraphs from Hank Aaron, Red’s former teammate with the Braves, that show just how respected Red was by some of the game’s greats.

Ultimately, Red: A Baseball Life is a fun, breezy conversation with a man who witnessed the bulk of the Cardinals’ modern era. Stars from Cardinals teams of the past breeze in and out of the story, and like so many old men, Red can’t help but compare the days of his youth to today’s baseball. It’s a wonderful light dive into St. Louis Cardinals history, one that demonstrates Schoendienst’s love of family and the Cardinals and – though it was never the purpose of the book – demonstrates exactly why Schoendienst and his unassuming personality were so beloved in St. Louis.

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