Concerned about the direction of a franchise that had gone eight consecutive years without qualifying for the postseason, the Cardinals pushed sentiment aside and fired manager Red Schoendienst.
Forty years ago, on Oct. 5, 1976, general manager Bing Devine informed Schoendienst he was out after 12 seasons as manager.
Schoendienst, who had built a Hall of Fame career as a Cardinals second baseman in the 1940s and 1950s, won two National League pennants (1967 and 1968) and a World Series title (1967) as St. Louis manager.
From 1969 through 1976, though, with a core that included Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ted Simmons and Joe Torre, the Cardinals never reached the postseason, even though a division format had expanded the number of teams that qualified.
In 1976, the Cardinals had an abysmal season. Their 72-90 record gave them a .444 winning percentage, their lowest since the .442 mark of the 1955 Cardinals (69-86).
“There are times, regardless of one’s capabilities, when a different perspective is in order,” Cardinals owner Gussie Busch said in explaining the decision to fire Schoendienst.
Devine told Neal Russo of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he recommended the move to Busch.
“I felt that a change in managers was in the best interests of the club,” Devine said. “We wanted a new approach, a new atmosphere.”
Schoendienst told Russo he was “absolutely surprised” by the firing.
“I thought I did a good job with the young kids,” Schoendienst said. “I don’t think anyone could have done any better with the club this year. It was great to see some of the kids playing so hard and showing so much potential. That’s why I would have liked to be around another year.”
In the book “Red: A Baseball Life,” Schoendienst said of the firing, “It caught me a little off guard … The organization decided to make changes. It was as simple as that and there really was no argument I could make. I never second-guessed myself. I never regretted any move or decision I made and I was happy with the job I had done.”
The 1976 Cardinals had an array of players who were 24 or younger, including infielders Keith Hernandez, Garry Templeton and Hector Cruz, outfielder Jerry Mumphrey and pitchers John Denny, Pete Falcone an Eric Rasmussen.
Some critics thought Schoendienst didn’t connect with the younger players.
“What hurt him most was that we’re a young club and maybe Red’s managing is directed more to a veteran ballclub _ just let ’em go out there and play,” Cardinals pitcher John Curtis said to Dick Kaegel of the Post-Dispatch. “I think you need a stronger approach than that. You need to reinforce things.”
The 1976 Cardinals, though, had the fewest saves (18) in the NL and committed the second-most errors (174), indicating the personnel, not the manager, was the problem.
In an article for The Sporting News, Russo, who covered the team on a daily basis, wrote, “Key injuries, erratic defense, disappointing pitching and the failure of the offensive leaders to produce doomed Red in ’76. There had been criticism of Red as being too easy-going, but the fact remains that his style was preferred by most players and observers.”
Schoendienst told longtime writer Bob Broeg, “I’m not going to kick benches or kick bats. I had meetings with the team and I asked them for 100 percent.”
Two days after firing Schoendienst, the Cardinals hired Vern Rapp, a minor-league manager and former Cardinals prospect, to replace him.
Said Schoendienst: “I don’t expect to be working for the Cardinals in some other capacity _ at least not now. But maybe I’ll be back in a few years.”
Schoendienst became a coach for the 1977 Oakland Athletics on the staff of manager Jack McKeon.
in 1978, a month into his second season as Cardinals manager, Rapp was fired and replaced by Ken Boyer.
After two seasons with the Athletics, Schoendienst returned to the Cardinals as a coach on Boyer’s staff in 1979.
When Boyer was fired in 1980, Schoendienst served a stint that season as interim manager for the Cardinals. He was on the coaching staff of manager Whitey Herzog when the Cardinals returned to the postseason in 1982 and won the World Series championship.
Schoendienst served on the Cardinals coaching staffs of managers Boyer, Herzog and Torre from 1979-95.
Previously: How Red Schoendienst became Cardinals manager