Art Schult, an outfielder and first baseman who played parts of five seasons in the major leagues with the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Senators, and Chicago Cubs, passed away July 25, 2014 in Ocala, Fla. He was 86.
Schult was born June 20, 1928 in Brooklyn, N.Y., but moved just north of the city to White Plains when he was nine years old. He was a star at White Plains High School, earning his chops on the semi-pro circuit while he was still in school.
“[While] playing in high school, there was a team, the Bronx Bombers,” Schult said to me in a 2008 interview. “They played in Van Cortland Park. They would give me $25 to play on a Saturday and Sunday,
and I was still in high school.”
He decided to go to Georgetown University, where he had an opportunity to play against top level competition in the prestigious Northern Summer League.
“I went to Georgetown before I signed,” he said. “I played in the college Northern League which was in Vermont and New Hampshire. I played up there against Robin Roberts and Johnny Antonelli.”
Schult drew the attention of Yankees scout Paul Krichell, who signed him to their Class B minor league affiliate in Norfolk, Va., in 1948.
He led the team in hitting and performed well enough in spring training the next season to make the jump all the way to AAA, one step away from the major leagues.
“I was supposed to go to Binghamton in the Eastern League,” he said. “I ended up in spring training because I led the club in hitting, so Buddy [Hassett] took me down as an extra.”
Schult was in over his head, batting only .185 in 16 games before being sent back to Binghamton where he was originally slated to go. He finished the 1949 season with Binghamton and played there again in 1950, batting .303. Just as things were starting to turn around, he was called into military service with the United States Army for the Korean War.
“I got stuck in a tank,” he said. “Being 6’4” I didn’t fit in the damn thing very well, so I couldn’t get out of the escape hatch in the bottom, so I’d sit there slumped over all the time. It took me about a year to get any kind of agility back.”
While stationed at Fort Devens, Schult roomed with Whitey Ford, who was also his roommate in both Norfolk and Binghamton. They both returned to the Yankees in 1953, looking to pick up where their careers left off. Their return was featured in the April 20, 1953 issue of Life Magazine.
“I reported to the Yankees in spring training in 1953,” he said. “They had won three straight World Series at that point. Since I was with the Yankees before I went overseas, I was a returning serviceman.”
Being classified as a returning serviceman, the Yankees had to keep Schult on the roster when he returned. The decision to keep Schult on the roster had heavy financial implications.
“Returning serviceman had to be retained by who they were with before. They called me into the office and they said, ‘Well you should play every day. We understand what you went through.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but you sent me a contract for $5,000 dollars a year.’”
The Yankees wanted to send him back to the minor leagues where he would be guaranteed to play full-time; however, they were unwilling to match the salary of his major league contract.
“If I get sent to the minor leagues, I get $600 per month and I have a wife and a child to support. I’d play in East Overshoe, Idaho, but I wanted to get paid. They said, ‘Well you signed a contract, that’s what you’ll have to do.’”
During Schult’s era, players were bound by the reserve clause to their clubs and had little rights to challenge the decisions of management; however, he had one ace left up his sleeve.
“I said, ‘I refuse to report on the GI Bill of Rights.’ They thought I was a clubhouse lawyer, but I wanted to make my family happy too.”
The Yankees, taking revenge for Schult’s bold stance, kept him on the roster, limited him to seven pinch-running appearances, but never sent him to the plate.
“I had a few problems and run-ins with Mr. Weiss and Mr. Stengel,” he said. “I hung around until they sent me to Syracuse in June at the trade deadline.”
Two of the veterans on the club sought out the young rookie to give him advice.
“[Allie] Reynolds and [Vic] Raschi came up to me just before the trade deadline and said, ‘Look, you’re beating your head against the wall. You’re not going to get to play. We’ll remember you’ve been here a half a year. We’ll remember you come World Series time. We’re 11 games in front of the league now.’”
Despite the assurance from the elder statesmen, Schult had to wrestle with the front office to get his due.
“I went to the office; they [asked] if they gave me the $5,000, would I report. I said, ‘Well I want a raise to go now. We’re 11 games in front; I want a World Series share.’ Boy they screamed. But, I finally did go, and I did get one-third of a World Series share that year.”
Schult never returned to the major leagues with the Yankees, as they sold him to the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League in 1955. It was a welcome move for the 27-year-old at the time.
“It was better than traveling in the big leagues,” he said. “When we traveled in the big leagues back then, we went by train. Being 6’4”, those roomettes, I didn’t fit in them. In the Pacific Coast League, you would get on a plane, you would fly to the next town, and you would stay there a whole week. You would then fly to the next town. You could unpack your bag. It wasn’t like you played three nights in a town and went on. It made it easier on the body.”
The Rainiers won the pennant in 1955 under the guidance of Fred Hutchinson. The club, which was filled with players who had major league experience, thrived in the conditions of the league.
“I made more money out there than with the Yankees. We won the PCL and Fred Hutchinson managed us. He called us in and said, ‘There isn’t one guy in here that doesn’t know how to play the game; you’ve all been to the big leagues and back. The only rule I have is that you give me nine good innings and we’ll get along fine.’ We won the league.”
Schult flourished in Seattle, and after batting .306 in 1956, the Reds gave him a look in September.
“Cincinnati took me up at the end of the year,” he said. “I pinch hit over .400 for them even though I wasn’t up that many times.”
He remained with the Reds to start the 1957, but found it difficult to break through their All-Star outfield.
“In Cincinnati they had Frank Robinson, Gus Bell and Wally Post in the outfield,” he said. “I’d spell Post when he’d go in a slump. Most of us were pinch-hitters; they led the league in homeruns.” (Cincinnati finished second in the National League with 187 home runs.)
Halfway through the season, the Reds sold Schult to the Washington Senators. In Washington, he played the longest stretch of his major league career, appearing in 77 games, while batting .263 in 247 at-bats.
He played the 1958 season in the minor leagues and spent parts of 1959 and 1960 with the Chicago Cubs. His time with Chicago allowed him to be up close and personal with a Hall of Famer in the making, Ernie Banks.
“With the bat he was superior as a short stop,” he said. “He had a little trouble traveling to his right. He used to cheat to his right side. He could go to the left really well. At that time, I was splitting time at first-base with Dale Long, so I got to take a pretty long look at him.”
He retired from baseball at the end of the 1960 season, finishing his major league career with a .264 batting average, six home runs and 56 RBIs in 164 games.
After baseball he took over his father’s fabric business while he had cancer. After his father passed away, he left the family trade to open a uniform rental business in Connecticut, which he operated until his wife passed away in 1984. He moved to South Florida before settling in Ocala in the mid 2000s.
Baseball remained in the family bloodlines as his son Jim followed in his footsteps after he was selected in the 33rd round of the 1981 draft by the Detroit Tigers. He hit .326 in his first season with their Rookie League team, but after suffering a broken hand, he moved on from professional baseball. He was later part of the inaugural class of Mercy College’s (NY) Hall of Fame, earning induction in 2006 after batting .470 for his collegiate career. His grandson Jim was the 2011 Division III Co-Player of the Year at Eastern Connecticut State. He went on to play three years for various minor league independent teams.
Speaking almost 50 years after his final major league game, Schult reflected on how difficult the players of his era had to not only break in, but stay in the major leagues.
“There were only eight teams in each league. … There were so many [minor league] teams back then; it was like a chain gang. I made the majors counting everything in five years.
“When you had a club like the Yankees that we were trying to make that was set [it was tough]. I played in Newark, Kansas City and Seattle. If I had one more good year, I would have played in Japan! They kept on moving you sideways.”