ST. LOUIS — When Skip Schumaker left Busch Stadium last October, he figured his time with the Cardinals was up.
“And that was OK,” Schumaker said from the visiting team’s clubhouse Monday afternoon. “I understood the direction they were going. There were never any hard feelings. As much as I loved it here, I understood. Your time runs out eventually.”
Though the Cardinals didn’t see Schumaker in their 2013 plans, they secured him a comfortable destination by trading him to the Dodgers for minor league shortstop Jake Lemmerman (who is hitting .232 at Springfield). Not only did the Cardinals find the 33-year-old Southern California native a job on his home turf, they sent him to a team with a real shot at winning the World Series.
After a rough start for himself as well as his new team, Schumaker couldn’t be more satisfied. The Dodgers have won a franchise-record 15 straight road games and taken a six-game lead in the NL West. Schumaker didn’t lift his average to .200 until the second half of May but since has hit .286. For the season, he is hitting .256 with two homers while filling the same utility role he had with the Cardinals last season.
“It’s very similar,” he said. “I think I’ve had more playing time than I most likely would have gotten over there because their lineup is so deep and the emergence of Matt (Carpenter). There’s been more opportunity here because of all the injuries than there might have been over there.”
Before Monday’s series opener, Schumaker gracefully downplayed his chances of getting a standing ovation from the Busch Stadium faithful. Even though he didn’t start and entered somewhat quietly as part of an eighth-inning double switch, the fans did not miss their chance to show him their appreciation. Schumaker might be gone after 11 years with the organization, but he won’t be forgetting what it’s like to play in St. Louis.
“I’ve had so many things happen in the course of my career and in my life through St. Louis, I don’t think it’s ever really going to leave you,” he said. “You move on, but you don’t forget about all the great times.”
Schumaker put up his best numbers with the Cardinals in 2008 and ’09 when he played in more than 150 games and hit better than .300. He worked mostly as a backup in his final two seasons in St. Louis but continued to provide veteran leadership in the clubhouse. His professional ways have been welcomed in L.A., too.
“It’s a trait you’re given,” said Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire, who also left St. Louis to return home to Southern California last year. “A lot of guys don’t have that. Skip has it. I’m glad he’s over here and things are really working out.”
“Early on, it was tough for me building relationships,” Schumaker said. “Guys who have been here are already jelling with each other, and it was tough getting in at first. It takes time to build that chemistry. After the first month, everyone started to really come together.”
Schumaker recently showed what kind of standup person he is when he spoke out harshly against Ryan Braun following his suspension for his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs.
“In my opinion, he should be suspended, lifetime ban,” Schumaker told L.A. reporters. “He lied to a lot of people. I was convinced, after that MVP, that he didn’t do it. I think he should hand over that MVP to Matt Kemp.”
Schumaker said his comments were met with plenty of support from other players, managers and coaches.
“It was a heat-of-the-moment-type thing,” he said. “If I had to do it again, I would. I might have thought about it a little bit longer.”
Next time, he said he would not suggest that anyone’s contract be voided.
“That’s the one thing I said that I regret,” Schumaker said. “I don’t think you should do that only because the players in the past worked so hard creating the guaranteed contracts for us. But if you suspend these guys, they’re not getting paid anyway. Don’t void the contract. Just suspend them forever.”
Like many players, Schumaker is in favor of tougher penalties for PED users. He has heard talk about an increase from 50 games to half a season for a first-time abuser and a lifetime ban for a second — instead of a third — offense.
When the Biogenesis penalties were handed out Monday, Schumaker chose not to speak out.
“I feel like I’ve said enough,” he said. “I’m hoping bigger names than me come out.”
His name might not register nationally, but he’ll always be a big shot in St. Louis. If he starts one of the three remaining games this week against his old team, Schumaker can count on another standing ovation, too.
“I’m sure,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before Monday’s game. “He was somebody that wore the Cardinal jersey with a lot of pride and took a lot of pride in trying to go about it the right way. I’m sure there’s going to be a very good reception for Skip.”
Few Cardinals have been more deserving.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.