Schoendienst was born in Germantown, Illinois, approximately 40 miles (64 km) east of downtown St. Louis to Joe and Mary Schoendienst as one of seven children. His father was a coal miner who struggled to support his family and they lived without running water and electricity.
Schoendienst showed a marked aptitude for baseball, enough that when playing at a young age, he would handicap himself by hitting left-handed. At age 16, Schoendienst dropped out of school to join the Civilian Conservation Corps program established through formerPresident of the United StatesFranklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Schoendienst suffered a serious eye injury while working on a fence. Most of the doctors he saw wanted to remove it until he found one who would work with him without removing it. Instead, he endured constant headaches and years of rehabilitation.
When Schoendienst played baseball after the eye injury, he discovered had an extremely difficult time reading breaking balls from right-handed pitchers. To reorient himself, he learned to become a switch hitter. In the spring of 1942, he participated in an open tryout for the St. Louis Cardinals with about 400 other hopefuls, but the Cardinals offered contracts only to Joe Garagiola, Sr., and Joe Linneman. Among those not offered contracts were Schoendienst and Yogi Berra. Schoendienst was actually supposed to have been signed at that tryout; it was due to an apparent miscommunication that he was not. Riled by this aberration, chief scoutJoe Mathes drove to Germantown to sign him for $75 a month.
Minor leagues and military service (1942–44)
Concurrently, with an imminent military obligation due to World War II and his age, it was only a matter of time before Schoendienst would be called to service. The next season, 1944, the Cardinals again sent him to Rochester, where he hit .373 in 25 games, before the Army drafted him. However, on January 1, 1945, the Army released him on a medical discharge due to the vision problems from his eye injury and sustained trauma incurred while shooting bazookas.
In 1956, the Cardinals traded him to the New York Giants, who dealt him the following season to the Milwaukee Braves, where he helped lead the team to its first pennant in nine years, batting .309 and finishing third in the NL MVP vote. In the World Series the Braves defeated the New York Yankees to win their only world championship in Milwaukee, and the franchise's first since 1914. Milwaukee repeated as NL champions in 1958 but lost to the Yankees in their World Series rematch; Schoendienst flew out to Mickey Mantle for the Series' final out.
During the 1958-59 off-season Schoendienst was diagnosed with tuberculosis and underwent a partial pneumonectomy in February 1959. He was told he not be able to play again. However, he returned to the Braves in 1960 but was released at the end of the season. In 1961, he rejoined the Cardinals, first as a pinch hitter, then as a coach when Johnny Keane replaced Solly Hemus as the Cardinals' manager. Schoendienst continued play while coaching; in his final two seasons with the Cardinals, batting over .300 both times.
Schoendienst last played in 1963. He compiled a .289 batting average with 84 home runs, 773 RBI, 1223 runs, 2449 hits, 427 doubles, 78 triples and 89 stolen bases in 2216 games played. His defensive statistics as a second baseman included 4616 putouts, 5243 assists, 1368 double plays, and only 170 errors in 10029 total chances for a .983 fielding average.
Coaching and managerial career (1964–present)
Keane resigned the day following the Cardinals' 1964 World Series victory over the Yankees, and Schoendienst was named as his replacement. Three years later, the Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox for his fourth World Series title and third as a Cardinal. His managerial record over 12 full-time seasons (1965–76) and two subsequent stints as interim manager (1980 and 1990) was 1,041 victories and 955 defeats (.522). After two years as a coach for the 1977-78 Oakland Athletics, Schoendienst returned to the Cardinals as coach and special assistant to the general manager. He won his fifth title in 1982. He remains an employee of the Cardinals organization with the title of Special Assistant Coach.
Schoendienst was a member of five winning World Series teams, all of which won in seven games: as a player with the Cardinals and Braves in 1946 and 1957 respectively; as the Cardinals manager in 1967; and as a Cardinals coach in 1964 and 1982. He was also a member of three teams that lost the Series after leading three games to one: the 1958 Milwaukee Braves (to the Yankees), the 1968 Cardinals (to the Detroit Tigers), and the 1985 Cardinals (to the Kansas City Royals).