Union City Greyhounds were in big trouble. A 5-22 record
during the first month of the 1942 season left the team in the
Kitty League cellar. Their losing record,
coupled with the fact that America had
entered World War II,
kept local fans away from the ballpark.
Desperate for help, team president Cecil Moss
wired a telegram to Branch Rickey of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In addition to his duties as general manager, Rickey was also
the overseer of the Cardinals minor league teams and the
Greyhounds were part of their vast farm system. Attendance was
so bad that unless something was done to bring in better
players, the telegram read, the team would be forced to
disband. After consulting with his scouts, Rickey began
sending fresh reinforcements to Union City.
Cardinals scout Bob Finch had seen
a young red-haired shortstop from Germantown, Illinois named
Schoendienst at a tryout camp held at Sportsman’s
Park. He contacted the 19-year-old,
intent on signing him to play at Union City. But first he needed
the signature of the youngster’s father on the contract. The
elder Schoendienst was a painting contractor and Finch managed
to find him working on
a highway bridge. Once his father signed the contract, Albert got on a bus at Breese, Illinois bound for Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the
Greyhounds were playing a road series.
Al Schoendienst made his professional debut that evening—Friday,
June 12, 1942—batting
sixth in the lineup and playing second base. He had three hits
in five at-bats, including a double and an RBI. He also turned
his first double play—Schoendienst
to first baseman Emerick Schmidt—and committed his first error.
The Greyhounds completed their series at Bowling Green on June 14,
splitting a day-night doubleheader with the Barons. The
“little second baseman,” as the writer for the Union City Daily Messenger described him, went 5-for-9 in both games, driving in
two runs, scoring two runs, and stealing a base. His twin bill
performance bolstered his batting average to .571, with eight
hits in 14 at-bats in his first three professional games!
It was about this time that Schoendienst asked manager Everett Johnston if
he could bat left-handed when facing a right-handed pitcher.
“I never will forget the look on his face,” he recalled in
his autobiography, Red: A Baseball Life. “He thought I was crazy
— until I explained…that I couldn't pick up the curve from
a right-hander without turning my head because of my problems
with my left eye. (He had injured his eye—and almost lost
it—three years earlier when he was hit by a nail.)
(Johnston) still was a little skeptical, but he said if I
wanted to try it I could.”
Meanwhile, the financial woes continued for the Greyhounds front office.
Most of the players sent by the Cardinals failed to reverse
the team’s fortunes and attendance had not improved. After
starting the season with a $1,500 surplus, the club was now
operating at a $3,600 deficit. (Ironically, it was Union City
that pressed to play the 1942 season despite the uncertainties
caused by the war.)
On June 15, the baseball committee of the local American Legion that
operated the Greyhounds met with William Walsingham,
vice-president of the Cardinals farm system. It was decided
that the team would have to be disbanded to prevent further
“Experience of the better teams of the Kitty League this year shows that
people generally are not interested in baseball,” remarked
club president Cecil Moss. “People are working hard and the
war is uppermost in their minds.”
Union City wasn’t the only team in the Kitty League losing money. Bowling
Green, Hopkinsville, and Owensboro were also suffering. Even
the first-place Fulton Tigers were averaging only 150 fans a
The next morning, league president Shelby Peace asked Union City officials
to play two more games, after which the entire league would
disband. The Union City officials agreed to do so.
The Greyhounds and Bowling Green Barons
returned to Union City for a one-game series at Turner Field
on June 16. The Greyhounds won by the score of 3 to 1 as Ed Beane tossed a one-hitter
for the Greyhounds.
Schoendienst went hitless in four at-bats but was part of his
second double play—shortstop Herschel Held to second baseman
Schoendienst to first baseman Emerick Schmidt.
He also had four assists at second base. The Union
City Daily Messenger
sportswriter referred to him as “Red” Schoendienst, the
in print he was called by his nickname. The
game also marked his only
appearance before the hometown fans in Union City.
the Greyhounds stumbled back onto
their team bus for another road series, this one at
Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Both games were lost to the
Johnston bumped Schoendienst up to second in the
batting order, where he had two hits in five at-bats in the
first game on June 17. He belted two doubles and drove in a
run in the 7-6 defeat, but also committed an error at second base.
Fittingly, the last game of the 1942 Kitty League season for Union City was
yet another loss. With the score 8-3, the Greyhounds were set
for a late-inning rally with the bases loaded in the ninth and
no outs. But Hopkinsville pitcher Vernon “Turkey” Curtis
quickly retired the side with
strikeouts to put an end to Union City’s miserable season. Schoendienst had a single in four plate
helped turn his third double play—third
baseman Stan Wolfson
to second baseman Schoendienst to first baseman Schmidt.
The Greyhounds finished the season in
last place with a 9-35 record. After
the Kitty League formally disbanded, the Cardinals reassigned the Union City players to other teams in
their farm system. Schoendienst was sent to another Class D
club in Albany, Georgia where he finished the 1942 season with
a .269 batting average, one home run, and 28 RBI in 68 games.
The 19-year-old second baseman who began his professional career in
obscurity in the Kitty League went on to become a member of the St. Louis Cardinals
just three years later. He spent the next 12 years with the
Redbirds where he was named to the All-Star Team twelve times.
In all, his 19-year major league career produced thirteen
All-Star appearances and culminated in his belated induction
into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
In 1953, the
Kitty League Writers and Broadcasters Association elected him
to their Hall of Fame. It was a choice based more on his accomplishments
during his major league career than what he did during his six
games in the Class D circuit.
Yet, if it hadn’t been for hard times in Union City and a cry for help
made to the Cardinals, it’s possible that the Hall of Fame
career of Albert “Red” Schoendienst
may never have begun.
For more information about the life and playing career of
Albert “Red” Schoendienst, I recommend reading his
autobiography, Red: A Baseball Life (co-written with Rob Rains) (Champaign, Ill: Sports
SCHOENDIENST'S KITTY LEAGUE CAREER