Two years after being named an American League all-star, Richie Scheinblum became a Cardinals pinch-hitter, closing out his big-league playing career.
A switch-hitting outfielder, Scheinblum was acquired by the Cardinals to help in their quest for a division title late in the 1974 season. Scheinblum was adept at pinch-hitting and the Cardinals wanted him solely for that role.
Scheinblum never got to play in the postseason. The Pirates edged out the Cardinals for the 1974 National League East title.
Scheinblum had six at-bats, all as a pinch-hitter, and produced two singles for the Cardinals. After the season, the Cardinals sold his contract to a team in Japan.
Known as much for his dry wit as for his baseball skills, Scheinblum hit .263 in eight seasons in the majors with the Indians, Senators, Royals, Reds, Angels and Cardinals. He died on May 10, 2021, at 78.
Live and learn
As Bob Broeg noted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Scheinblum was born in the same New York City hospital in which Babe Ruth died and in which scenes for “The Godfather” were filmed.
Describing his early childhood in the Bronx, Scheinblum told The Sporting News, “They tore down my neighborhood to build slums.”
Scheinblum moved with his family to Englewood, N.J. His Little League coach was a woman, Janet Murke, who taught him to hit from either side of the plate, The Sporting News reported.
After graduating from high school, Scheinblum played baseball at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y., and earned a degree in business administration.
Playing in the Central Illinois Collegiate Summer League, Scheinblum had a job with an ice cube manufacturer.
“We worked from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Scheinblum told The Sporting News. “We were paid 80 cents an hour for making ice cubes for the Polar Bear Ice Cube Company. They’d wrap two of us in heavy clothes to keep us from freezing and put us in a room where the temperature was 30-below zero.”
Scheinblum was 21 when the Indians signed him in 1964 and sent him to the minors. A year later, he made the leap from Class A to the big leagues. Recalling Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts, Scheinblum told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “He used to tell me to go kneel in the on-deck circle until he could think of someone to send up to hit.”
Scheinblum spent most of the next three seasons (1966-68) in the minors. The Sporting News referred to him as “the perennial rookie.”
Lou Piniella also was an Indians outfield prospect. After the 1968 season, the Indians protected Scheinblum, rather than Piniella, from the American League expansion draft.
Scheinblum could hit and throw, but he was neither a graceful fielder nor fast. Asked what gave him the most trouble on defense, Scheinblum told the Kansas City Star, “Everything they hit at me.” Regarding his speed, Scheinblum said, “It takes me five steps to get out of the batter’s box.”
In the Indians’ 1969 spring training opener, Scheinblum “misjudged a fly ball into a triple and fell down fielding a single into a triple,” The Sporting News reported. “He hit an inside-the-park homer, but was called out at third for missing the bag.”
Improbably, Scheinblum began the 1969 season as the Indians’ Opening Day right fielder, batting third in the lineup.
“For four years I’ve been overawed,” he told The Sporting News. “Not anymore.”
He went hitless in his first 34 at-bats.
“The only good thing about playing in Cleveland is you don’t have to make road trips there,” Scheinblum said to Sports Illustrated.
Demoted to the minors in 1970, Scheinblum hit .337 for Wichita and was dealt after the season to the Senators. Manager Ted Williams had Scheinblum on the 1971 Opening Day roster, but he hit .143 and was sent back to the minors.
“I’ve been sent down more than laundry in a chute,” Scheinblum said to the Los Angeles Times.
Playing for Denver, Scheinblum hit .388 in 106 games. It was the highest batting average in the American Association since Harry Walker hit .393 for the Cardinals’ Columbus farm club in 1951.
The Royals purchased Scheinblum’s contract and he opened the 1972 season with them as a reserve outfielder. In May, after Bob Oliver was traded, Royals manager Bob Lemon platooned Scheinblum and Steve Hovley in right field.
“At first, I was reluctant to go with Scheinblum because I didn’t think he was too good defensively,” Lemon told Sports Illustrated, “but we got to a point where we needed hitting. So I put him in.”
Scheinblum had an unorthodox way he batted. “I pull my head, swing up, and collapse my back leg _ things I shouldn’t do,” Scheinblum said.
The Indians and Senators had tried to change his style, but Royals hitting coach Charlie Lau left him alone. Scheinblum hit .386 in June and took over in right, joining an outfield with Amos Otis in center and former Indians teammate Lou Piniella in left.
“Amos covered everything,” Scheinblum told the Kansas City Star. “I was told to stand on the right field line and don’t move. Lou was told to stand on the left field line and don’t move. What our job was, when the ball was hit, we’d point.”
At the all-star break, the top three hitters in the American League were Scheinblum (.325), Piniella (.319) and Otis (.309). All three were named to the all-star team.
Scheinblum hit .300 for the season and his on-base percentage was .383. He was stunned when the Royals traded him and pitcher Roger Nelson to the Reds after the season for outfielder Hal McRae and pitcher Wayne Simpson.
The Reds were the reigning National League champions and were set in the outfield with Pete Rose, Cesar Geronimo and Bobby Tolan. “I’m probably the only guy in the history of baseball to hit .300, make the all-star team and not have a job the next year,” Scheinblum told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Scheinblum was miserable in the role of reserve outfielder with the 1973 Reds, but attempted to maintain a sense of humor. Asked by teammate Jack Billingham why he always was spitting in the dugout, Scheinblum replied, “That’s the way I keep my weight down.”
Hit king Pete Rose called Scheinblum “the king of the one-liners.”
Scheinblum hit .300 as a Reds pinch-hitter but .222 overall. After the Reds traded him to the Angels in June 1973, Scheinblum told The Sporting News, “They try to discount everything you do over there to hold salaries down …. For the talent they have, they have the most underpaid team in baseball.”
He also took a swipe at the Reds’ manager, saying, “Two pennants have gone to Sparky Anderson’s head.”
In a letter published by The Sporting News, Reds public relations director Jim Ferguson responded, “Scheinblum did more talking than hitting.”
Scheinblum hit .328 in 77 games with the 1973 Angels. At spring training the next year, Angels manager Bobby Winkles assigned coach Whitey Herzog to work daily with Scheinblum on fielding. “We don’t think he’s been as good a defensive outfielder as he can be,” Winkles told the Los Angeles Times.
In April 1974, the Angels traded Scheinblum back to the Royals. Four months later, on Aug. 5, Scheinblum’s contract was purchased by the Cardinals.
Scheinblum, 31, was assigned to Tulsa and hit .247 in 24 games. In September, he was called up to the Cardinals, who entered the month 2.5 games behind the division-leading Pirates.
In his six plate appearances as a Cardinals pinch-hitter, all against right-handers, Scheinblum’s highlights were singles against relievers Gene Garber of the Phillies Boxscore and Dave Giusti of the Pirates. Boxscore
Scheinblum spent the 1975 and 1976 seasons with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.
His son, Monte Scheinblum, became a professional golfer and was the U.S. national long driving champion in 1992.