Mr. Hoffmeister, who has the butcher shop on Vliet Street in Milwaukee, about a 10-minute drive from County Stadium, looked up from his chopping block as the tall, slender young man with the red hair and freckled face walked in.
"Red Schoendienst!" cried Mr. Hoffmeister, putting down his meat cleaver and coming around the counter to shake hands.
"Good morning, Mr. Hoffmeister," said Red Schoendienst.
Mr. Hoffmeister's face clouded for an instant. He looked around the store carefully, as though there might be eavesdroppers hiding in the vegetable bins, and then he asked in a hoarse whisper, "Red, is everything going to be all right? Has that ball club of ours really snapped out of it?"
September 29, 1957
Red Schoendienst nodded gravely.
"We're O.K., Mr. Hoffmeister," said Red. "The pitching staff is all straightened out, Adcock and Logan are back and the boys are hitting again. We're going to be all right, you've got nothing to worry about."
Mr. Hoffmeister sighed in relief. "That's a load off my mind," he said. "I've been telling my customers not to get nervous about this thing. I told them the Braves weren't going to blow this one."
Mr. Hoffmeister walked around the counter and swept some scraps off the chopping block and turned back to face Red again.
"What's it going to be this morning, Red?" he asked. "Steak, primerib, rump roast, leg of lamb—a nice fryer?"
Red shook his head.
"Mr. Hoffmeister," he said, "what I'd like this morning is a soup bone."
Automatically, Mr. Hoffmeister took another glance around like a man about to sell a pint of whiskey in a dry state.
"I've got a dandy for you, Red," he said, keeping his voice low.
If a stranger had come in and asked for a soup bone, Mr. Hoffmeister might have delivered a few remarks on the subject. He might even have suggested that the stranger try one of the supermarkets. The fact is that the supermarkets don't bother with soup bones anymore. Most people buy canned soups and to get a soup bone a man has to be on very good terms with an independent butcher like Mr. Hoffmeister.
Mr. O'Reilly's daughter
As Mr. Hoffmeister was wrapping the bone, Red picked out what vegetables he was going to need and, after a final word of reassurance on the prospects of the Braves in the stretch drive, he waved goodby to Mr. Hoffmeister and went out and got in his car and drove to a two-family flat on Martha Washington Drive. Red has a permanent home in St. Louis, but he rented the Milwaukee flat so his wife and three children could be with him for the final weeks of the season.
Back in the flat, Red slipped into the kitchen without saying a word. Mary Eileen O'Reilly Schoendienst (Jim O'Reilly's daughter and as pretty a bride as ever walked down the aisle at St. Margaret's in South St. Louis) looked in after a while, took in the picture of Red thoughtfully peeling potatoes and onions for the soup.
"Soup," said Mary approvingly. "A very good idea, Red." And then she went on about her housework, keeping an eye on the three children: Colleen, 6; Cathleen, 5; Eileen, 6 months. Red, by the way, has announced to friends that he intends to name the first boy Hans. Mary Eileen O'Reilly Schoendienst has also announced that he wouldn't dare.
Seated at the kitchen table, getting all the vegetables ready, Albert Fred Schoendienst—still boyish-looking at 34—didn't particularly resemble a star who was credited with turning a mechanically superior team into a pennant winner. But when he came to Milwaukee in midseason from the Giants, he was accepted as just that; the town took him to its heart as warmly as Mr. Hoffmeister, the butcher, had. They delighted in Red's highly individual style of playing second: standing loose-limbed, glove held almost casually in the wrong hand until the instant of the pitcher's wind-up, then his sudden tensing, crouching, shifting of the glove and readiness for the play whatever it might call for—charging a slow roller, going far to his right for a smash, making the double play in such a variety of ways (each one with the instinctive reaction of a perfectly coordinated mind and body—that up in the stands bratwurst and rye rolls were frequently flung to the winds in spontaneous explosions of applause and cheering. At the plate, Red—choking the bat, hitting to all fields from either side of the plate—edified the fans no less. It seemed almost miraculous and mystically meaningful that in this city, so heavy with German tradition, the Braves had found their missing ingredient in a modest and amiable young man whose German name translates as "beautiful service."
Incongruously, Red's contributions to the Braves could not be precisely proved on paper. Although he was hitting well over .300 and fielding with his customary brilliance, he had missed ball games (because of injuries) that the Braves had won, had played in many they had lost. Even so, the canniest of baseball men agreed that his mere presence in Milwaukee uniform had provided a vital intangible of spirit that the Braves sorely needed. The fact that Red was around—even if he was on the bench—had had its uplifting effect upon every other member of the ball club.
A clubhouse incident during the stretch served to illustrate the point. Red lay on the rubbing table and Doc Feron, the Milwaukee trainer, was working on him. A visitor Red knew walked in and looked at him, then pointed to a bruise the size of a cantaloupe on the underside of Red's leg, behind the knee.
"If you think that's bad, Red," said the visitor, "you should see Musial. I saw him in St. Louis. He's got 'em in Technicolor."
Red smiled, but Doc Feron bridled as if an aspersion had been cast.
"That's his good leg!" cried the doc indignantly. He pointed to the other leg, which had an elastic bandage on it. "You should see that one!" The implication was clear that the doc would tolerate no downgrading of Red in any department whatsoever.
Neither would anyone else in the room. Manager Fred Haney confirmed what he had been saying around the circuit and told how he put Red in charge of the team on the field, confident that the other players would take direction from him because they respected his ability and judgment and sound baseball instincts. Players—Crandall, the catcher; Pafko, the veteran utility man; Covington, the young outfielder—all of them testified to Red's steadying influence and sound maneuvering of the team. Red, it was clear, rubbed no man the wrong way, spoke all baseball dialects, was capable of getting along with all kinds of baseball temperaments.
More than a pro
The professional admiration extended far beyond this room. Managers like Birdie Tebbetts of Cincinnati and Mayo Smith of the Phillies had credited Red with assuring the Braves of a pennant and Tebbetts had gone so far as to nominate him for the most valuable player of the year award.
Fans sensitive to the niceties of the game have no quarrel with Tebbetts on that point. One admirer of Schoendienst put it this way:
"People say Red is a pro. He is a great deal more than a pro. He is like an oldtime craftsman with a genuine pride in his work and confidence that he can do it well. He does not need constant self-reassurance.
"When Red makes an error, he does not feel a compulsion to atone for it by doing something spectacular. He puts the error out of his mind and says to himself, 'We will now return to playing baseball.'
"He does not become stampeded. I remember seeing him recently when Burdette was being hit hard. Red walked halfway to the pitching mound and merely held up two fingers and said, 'Two away.' That was the most pertinent bit of information of the moment. Red delivered it and walked back to the bag. No grandstand gestures, just a concise reminder of what the situation was, including, quite incidentally, the physical demonstration of the all-important fact that Schoendienst was playing second base.
"Schoendienst is not really a take-charge guy at all. He has to be told to take charge. But when Haney gave him authority he did not dodge it. If he had thought the job was beyond him, he would have been able to say so without loss of pride.
"Schoendienst is a man who has a very old-fashioned virtue which goes way back before the invention of the tranquilizer pills. It is the virtue known as self-reliance. There are no slumps in the private life of such a man."
Red himself winced visibly when confronted with a recitation of all these tributes to him.
"One man can't make a team," he protested. "I don't do any more than anybody else. Crandall and Logan and Mathews—they'll all go in and talk to the pitcher. They'll move the outfielders if they spot something that calls for it."
But didn't Haney put him in charge out on the field? Didn't Fred tell all the other players that Red would be calling the shots?
Red shook his head. "He asked me to help out where I could, that's all."
No other attitude could be expected from an old pro. And although Red looked neither old nor particularly professional, that is precisely what he was. Baseball was his world; he had never made his living in any other way since the day 15 years ago in German-town, Ill. when he and his friend, Joe Linnemann, read for the first time that the Cardinals were holding tryouts for all comers at what was then known as Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.
"Joe," said Red, slapping the sports page, "let's go over to St. Louis and try out. The least we can get out of it is the chance to see some free ball games."
Joe said he'd just as lief. Both boys had played semipro ball in the Clinton County League and Red had survived a major crisis in his young life. During a hitch at a CCC camp, a nail had ricocheted after a hammer blow by another boy and had struck Red in the left eye. For a time it had been touch and go whether Red would lose the eye, but it had healed and seemed to be all right now.
Joe's father didn't protest when Red and Joe said they were going to St. Louis. He had been set on Red (the sixth of eight children) finishing high school, but Red had played hookey to go after bass and catfish so much during his first year that there just seemed to be no changing him. Fishing and hunting and playing ball were the only things that interested Red, and his father worried considerably about how he was ever going to make a living.
Red didn't ask for any money to make the 40-mile trip to St. Louis. That didn't bother him or Joe either. They got out on the highway and a milk truck, bound for a dairy in South St. Louis, picked them up right away.
Red, who was holding 25¢ in cash, figured that the Cardinal ball club would provide lunch money. But the first day nobody said anything about it and Red and Joe went over to a little hot dog stand on Spring Avenue across from the ball park and ordered a dog and a Pepsi.
Even today, Red remembers that particular lunch vividly. The lady in charge of the stand was a very friendly person and Red recalls that she said, "Boys, are you trying out for the Cardinals by any chance?" They said they were. Then the lady looked them over carefully and finally said, "Boys, many times in my life I've been able to sense and foretell the course of coming events. I don't know where the power comes from and I can't always depend on it. But, boys, I've got the feeling this moment that you're going to be very good ballplayers and you're going to make the Cardinal team."
Red and Joe thought for a minute that the dogs and Pepsis were going to be on the house. But the lady punctuated her prophecy with a resounding clang of the cash register and handed them back their change, which left Red with a thin dime.
That evening, Joe Linnemann said he was going to the home of an aunt and he said Red was welcome to come along. Red said thanks just the same, but he had some place to stay that night. And he did, too. It turned out to be a park bench across from the Union Depot.
At lunch time next day, Miss Mary Murphy of the Cardinal front office (she's signed every big Cardinal star for 20 years) was working at her desk when she heard some voices in the waiting room and one voice above all the others (she now remembers) saying, "Heck, if this is the kind of ball club it is, I don't know whether I want to play for it or not."
Miss Murphy got up from her desk and went into the waiting room. "Now who is it," she asked, "who's not going to play for the Cardinals?" She pointed to Red and said, "Is it you?"
Red glanced around at the half dozen boys with him. Then he looked at Miss Murphy and spoke up:
"Well, we thought they'd give us lunch money anyway."
Miss Murphy waited a minute and then said, "Well, I agree with you and I think it's the least the club could do." Then she went back to her desk and took $5 out of her own handbag and came back and offered it to Red. Red blushed and hesitated a minute. Then he reached out and took the money, looked at Miss Murphy a bit defiantly and blurted: "I'll bring back the change."
"It's not necessary to bring back the change," said Miss Murphy. "You just see to it that you and the other boys all get plenty to eat."
Red said, "We sure do thank you." He led the other boys down the steps in orderly fashion and when they were outside they all broke into a run for Murph's Place across the street.
There was no problem about lunch for Red on the last day of the tryouts. Joe Mathes, the famous Cardinal scout, personally took him to Murph's Place and gave him his pick of the steam table. After they had finished eating, Joe Mathes told Red that every Cardinal scout who had been watching the boys had agreed on one particular prospect.
"Red, said Joe Mathes, "how would you like to play with Union City in the Kitty League?"
Next day, the Cardinals sent a man over to Germantown to get the signature of Red's father on a contract. Red's professional career had begun.
Red's old eye injury, which was destined to plague him at odd times during his career, became a problem at Union City, although he hit safely the first eight times at bat. But, as a righthanded hitter, he found that he had to turn his head in order to see a righthander's curve ball with his better eye. He confided his problem to Everett Johnson, the Union City manager, and proposed a simple solution. "What I'll do," Red told his manager, "is learn to bat left-handed."
The manager's mouth fell open. "Just like that you'll become a switcher?" he said.
"If you don't have any objections," said Red.
The manager shook his head and said there weren't any objections he could think of at the moment. In a few days, Red was hitting from both sides of the plate.
Switch hitting Schoendienst went up fast. In a year's time he was playing for Pepper Martin at Rochester. At 20, he won the International League batting championship before going into the Army. His old eye injury cut short his military service and in 1945 he reported to Manager Billy South worth for his first full season with the Cardinals, a team he was to serve until Frank Lane traded him to the Giants last year.
Because the regular Cardinal outfield of Moore, Slaughter and Musial was still in service, Southworth used Red in left for almost the entire season, but next year he was moved to the infield to play second base, third base and shortstop until he finally settled down at his permanent berth at second. From that point on, he played with a kind of unostentatious near-perfection that people came to take almost for granted. There were the occasions of dazzling performance, as when Red hit eight doubles in three consecutive games and when he broke up the All-Star Game of 1950 with a home run in the 14th inning. But most of the time Red was just reassuringly there, spraying his line drives to all fields, making the double play that shouldn't really have been made at all, turning up in the outfield for pesky Texas Leaguers, sometimes—after a complicated scramble—appearing on third base which (as nobody else seemed to have noticed) was uncovered. He wasn't the big star; he was Schoendienst, 2b—as comforting to his manager as government bonds in a safety deposit box.
Now it was midafternoon of that day during the 1957 stretch. In the living room of the flat on Martha Washington Drive in Milwaukee, Red Schoendienst, the $35,000-a-year star who had devoted most of the morning to preparing a pot of vegetable soup, lounged in slacks and sports shirt. Across the room sat Mary Eileen O'Reilly Schoendienst, dressed in suit and blouse for a "personal appearance" she was to make with other wives of players that evening. The baby, Eileen, was napping, Colleen was off visiting a friend and Cathleen and a neighbor's child were playing on the front lawn.
The atmosphere was relaxed against the crucial (they were all crucial now) game at County Stadium that night. The Schoendiensts made small talk with a visitor who wondered, since Mickey Mantle had a motel and Stan Musial had a restaurant and Sal Maglie had a liquor store and Terry Moore had a bowling alley, if Red had any long-range plans for the future.
"Well," said Red, "I'd like to play as long as I can and then I'd like to stay in baseball. I'd like to be a coach if I could—or maybe an umpire."
"You'd be an umpire?" said the visitor, incredulously.
"Yes," said Red. "I'd like to be an umpire."
"Then you should start working," said Mary (without whom Red signs no player contracts), "on a pension plan for umpires."
Red said: "I'll get a pension as a player, Mary."
"Even so," said Mary. She turned to the visitor. "You know, the World Series is going to be televised in color. Won't Red look wonderful in color?"
Where Red would go
Somehow the talk turned to world travel and Mary mentioned several countries she'd like to visit—Ireland, England, France, Switzerland and Germany.
"Where would you like to go, Red?" asked the visitor.
"Why," said Red, "I'd like to go to the Ozarks."
"And he will, too," laughed Mary, "just as soon as the season is over." Suddenly she got up from her chair and excused herself and hurried into the kitchen. When she returned a moment later, the visitor was saying:
"Red, you talk about staying in the game after you quit playing. I think you'd make a wonderful manager. You get along with people, you've got a rare instinct for baseball, fine judgment—and you're a balanced kind of guy. You don't blow your top in a crisis. Those are all qualities that make a good manager, in my humble opinion."
Mary was standing at the door leading into the living room.
"Now," the visitor ran on, turning to include Mary in the conversation, "something impressed me very much here today. And I'll tell you what it was—it was that soup bone you got down at Mr. Hoffmeister's. To me, that soup bone is very significant. What I mean to say is, here you have a town going crazy with all the fans biting their nails during this stretch drive. Down at the Braves office, they're all probably pacing the floor. And what do you do? You know there's nothing to be done about the situation until the game tonight so you don't waste time worrying. You do something constructive. You go in for a form of occupational therapy, so to speak. You get a soup bone and make a nice big pot of soup."
The visitor looked from Red to Mary and said, "Am I right or wrong?"
Red just shook his head. But Mary Eileen O'Reilly Schoendienst nodded in vigorous agreement.
"I think you're perfectly right," she said, "except for one thing."
"What's that?" said the visitor.
"He," she said, pointing to Red, "forgot to watch the soup, and just now I found it so burned that Mr. Hoffmeister's beautiful soup bone is stuck to the bottom of the pot."