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For 63 years, Cards all Red
10/16/2004 3:36 PM ET
HOUSTON -- The man in the familiar No. 2 Cardinals jersey stretched behind the batting cage at Minute Maid Park, patted players on the back, picked up his Louisville Slugger fungo bat with "Schoendienst" burned into the thin barrel and proceeded to slap grounders to Edgar Renteria and Tony Womack between batting-practice pitches.

No one loves baseball more than Red Schoendienst.

He is 81 and working on another World Series ring. It is his 63rd year in Major League Baseball, and there he was before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the Cardinals and Astros on Saturday afternoon, standing by the cage next to 24-year-old Albert Pujols and 27-year-old Carlos Beltran in a stunning portrait of the baseball continuum.

"I've had a good time here in baseball. I love baseball. That's why I'm still around," said Schoendienst, whose official title is special assistant to the general manager. "I'm just happy that [Cardinals manager] Tony [La Russa] and the owners have me around yet. I love to be with these guys. Our ballclub this year has been fun to watch. I've put in 63 years now in the big leagues as a player, coach, manager. And now just being around these young guys, it keeps you going pretty good."

Many Major League clubs keep their legendary players around in a variety of roles, but few living legends -- especially those born in 1923 or earlier -- have a more immediate impact on the present clubs than Schoendienst.

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"You've got a great man, who's a great person, who also has great experience. [He was] a great player, he's so accessible and willing to talk to players," said La Russa, who was seen catching balls while Schoendienst hit fungoes during Friday's off-day workout in Houston. "They can get help in everything -- how they play the game, how they conduct themselves professionally with fans. He's a beauty.

"I like to be around him, because he's a delightful man. He watches the games very closely. Any question you ask, he'll have an opinion, and it's a good one. He's not just going through the motions. He loves the game."

Schoendienst was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 and can tell these Cardinals plenty about what it takes to get to a World Series. He played on that stage in 1946 with the Cardinals and in 1956 and '57 with the Milwaukee Braves. He was a player-coach on the 1964 Cardinals that beat the Yankees in the Fall Classic, and he managed the 1967-68 teams that beat Boston and lost to Detroit, respectively, in the World Series. Schoendienst has done it all and seen it all, and the current Cardinals listen.

"He's a Hall of Famer, a guy who's done an awful lot for baseball," outfielder Reggie Sanders said. "Just the history of what he's done in a Cardinals uniform is amazing. I'm getting an opportunity to see him every day around the clubhouse, to see how he goes about his business -- very calm, a very positive attitude just to smile, just to have fun, just to pat you on back and say, 'Let's go get 'em, kid.'

"I've been with younger teams where you've had a chance to see older guys who have done something in baseball. Red is there all the time, so you get a chance to pick his mind a little. He can just warm you up a little bit."

Many past Cardinals greats have been asked lately to compare this club with past ones in the rich franchise history. Stan Musial told USA Today this week that the 1942 club is the Cardinals' best ever, and that this one could come in at No. 2. Schoendienst doesn't make those comparisons, but when you ask him, you gradually get a sense for exactly what he imparts to the 2004 Redbirds.

"I don't like to compare clubs or players from way back. It's different today," he said. "Your ballparks are better. In the days when I played, we had eight teams in each league. Now you have more. This club, you've got to know how to play, no matter what year it is. You can stack them up with any club I'd ever been around with, and they'd do pretty well.

"The whole ball club, they're fun to watch. Plus, they're good hitters. The pitching came around, where some aren't great pitchers, but they know hot to pitch. They're good base runners. They know how to play. They all pull for one another. The guys on the bench stay ready. I'd have to say Tony is one of the best managers I've ever seen, as far as discipline with a ballclub and going right with them. Our first baseman, our third baseman, they're all good base runners. They know how to play the game. You might beat them, but they're going to give 100 percent."

There are players with great talent, and there are players who know how to play the game. Schoendienst helps make sure people know how to play -- all of the countless little things that you absorb over 63 years and gradually impart to others.

"His competitiveness is the main thing you notice about Red," said Wayne Hagin, the Cardinals' broadcaster. "We were playing golf recently and it was me and Red against [Cards broadcasters and former players] Mike Shannon and Al Hrabosky. Red told me, 'We can't let those [guys] beat us.' He still has that competitive fire, and I think that's mostly what he's putting into the players' heads when he talks to them."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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