Although he suffered a severe eye injury in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Schoendienst signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals for $75 a month in 1942. At Rochester the following season, he was named International League MVP. After spending most of 1944 in the army, he was discharged early in 1945 because of eye problems and an injured shoulder, yet he made the Cardinals as a starting left fielder a few months later. He finished the season with a NL-high 26 stolen bases.
When Lou Klein jumped to the Mexican League in 1946, Schoendienst moved to second base, and led NL second basemen in fielding average for the first of seven seasons. With sure hands and quick reflexes, he handled 320 consecutive chances without an error in 1950. He set a NL record in 1956 with a .9934 fielding average at 2B, eclipsed 30 years later by Ryne Sandberg.
Schoendienst was one of the best switch-hitters of his day. He led the league in at-bats in 1947 and again in ’50, when he also led in doubles. In the 1950 All-Star Game, he hit a dramatic 14th-inning home run to win it for the NL. He batted .342 to finish second behind Carl Furillo in the 1953 NL batting race.
Schoendienst was sent to the Giants as part of a multi-player deal on June 14, 1956. A year and a day later, he was traded to the Braves, and led the NL with 200 hits. A key component of Milwaukee’s consecutive pennant-winners, he played 106 games in 1958 despite bruised ribs, a broken finger, and pleurisy. Tuberculosis cost him part of a lung in 1959, causing him to miss all but five games of the season. His struggle to come back drew national attention. He returned to the Cardinals in 1961, and in 1962 led the league with 22 pinch hits in 72 attempts. He was a .303 career pinch hitter.
A Cardinal coach under Johnny Keane, Schoendienst succeeded him in 1965, beginning the longest managerial tenure in club history. Under his direction, St. Louis won pennants in 1967 and 1968, and defeated the the Red Sox in the ’67 World Series. Friendly and popular, he had an easy-going managerial style. Fired in 1976 after 12 years at the helm, he spent two years coaching for the A’s before returning in that capacity to the Cardinals in 1979. He again served as Cardinal manager for six weeks in 1980 as Whitey Herzog temporarily left the dugout to become general manager.