Schmidt, Michael Jack ("Mike")
SCHMIDT, Michael Jack ("Mike")
(b. 27 September 1949 in Dayton, Ohio), baseball's premier power hitter during the 1970s and 1980s and third baseman who won eight National League home run titles, ten Gold Glove awards, and selection to a dozen All-Star teams.
Schmidt is the son of Jack Schmidt, a restaurateur, and Lois Phillips, the proprietor of a swim club; he has one sibling, a sister. Sports became an integral part of Schmidt's life at age four, when his grandmother taught him how to hit a baseball. At age eight he was the starting third baseman on a neighborhood Little League team consisting mostly of twelve-year-olds. By his sophomore year at Fairview High School in Dayton, Ohio, Schmidt was the starting quarterback in football, a power forward on the basketball team, and a switch-hitting shortstop in baseball. While Jack Schmidt encouraged his son's love for sports, he was also sparing in his praise of Mike's athletic accomplishments. "My father has always been a very quiet man," said Schmidt. "I think he was proud of me and what I accomplished, but he always made it clear to me that I could do better."
Despite his early athletic success, Schmidt was not a "can't miss" prospect. High school football injuries to both of his knees prevented him from attracting much interest from either the minor leagues or a major Division I college program. Instead, upon his graduation from high school in June 1967, he decided to attend Ohio University, where he made the baseball squad as a walk-on. Through a grueling conditioning program designed to rehabilitate his knees and an exceptional on-the-field work ethic, Schmidt made himself into a two-time All-American shortstop, helping to lead the Bobcats to three straight Mid-American Conference championships and a fourth-place finish in the 1970 College World Series. The following year he graduated from Ohio with a B.A. degree in business administration.
Schmidt's play attracted major league scouts. The Philadelphia Phillies made him their second pick in the June 1971 draft and sent him to Double-A Reading, Pennsylvania. Schmidt, six feet, two inches and 190 pounds, struggled, batting .211 in 74 games with 8 home runs and 31 runs batted in (RBI). Nevertheless, in 1972 he was promoted to Eugene, Oregon, where he was named a Triple-A All-Star second baseman after hitting .291 with 26 home runs and 91 RBI in 131 games. Labeled a "late bloomer" by the scouts, Schmidt was converted to third base in the major leagues.
His rookie season with Philadelphia in 1973 was a nightmare. Schmidt's 18 home runs and 52 RBI were overshadowed by his .196 batting average and 136 strikeouts. The following season, however, he displayed the ability to become one of the most feared power hitters in the game, leading the major leagues with 36 homers, topping the National League with a .546 slugging percentage, and finishing second in the National League in RBI with 116. In the process Schmidt also raised his batting average 86 points to .282 and made the National League All-Star team as a write-in candidate. A brilliant career had taken off.
During the next three seasons Schmidt averaged 38 home runs and 100 RBI and hit around the .260 mark while winning his first two Gold Glove awards for fielding excellence at third base. His performance allowed the Phillies to clinch the National League's Eastern Division in 1976 and 1977, though the team eventually lost in the playoffs to stronger clubs from Cincinnati and Los Angeles, respectively. In February 1974 Schmidt married Donna Wightman; they had two children.
A succession of injuries led to a disappointing 1978 season for Schmidt. He hit just 21 home runs, drove in 78 runs, and batted .251. A perfectionist by nature, he became his own worst critic. The harder he pressed, the worse he performed. The "Boo-Birds," a vocal minority of Phillies fans, interpreted Schmidt's cool demeanor as "uncaring" and "egocentric." They wanted him to show his emotions and tried to provoke him with their jeers. On occasion Schmidt lashed back in the press, straining his relationships with both the media and the fans.
The adversity led him to join a growing Christian athlete movement in baseball. While he did not impose his religious beliefs on others, Schmidt let his faith speak for itself by sponsoring a host of charities, taking an active role in raising his own family, and embracing the responsibility of a role model for youngsters. Pete Rose's arrival in Philadelphia from Cincinnati in 1979 also had a positive influence on Schmidt's career. Rose's unparalleled enthusiasm and exceptional knowledge of the game inspired Schmidt to improve his own performance, and Rose's quick wit and magnetic personality took some of the media pressure off the younger third baseman. Schmidt learned to relax and to enjoy the game, especially in 1980 when the Phillies surprised the baseball world by capturing the first World Series championship in the history of the franchise.
Schmidt had a career year in 1980. He led the Phillies to the postseason games with his 48 home runs, 121 RBI, and .286 batting average, a performance that earned him the first of three Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards. He was even more impressive in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, batting .381 and collecting 2 home runs and 7 RBI. His headfirst leap onto a pile of teammates after the final out of game six was a rare show of emotion for the normally serious-minded third baseman and is one of the most treasured images in Philadelphia sports history. At the end of the season the world champion Phillies rewarded Schmidt with a $10 million contract, making him the highest-paid player in the game at that time.
Schmidt improved his performance in 1981, collecting a .316 batting average with 31 home runs and 91 RBI in a season shortened by a strike. Though he fell short of the triple crown (leading the league in home runs, RBI, and batting average) by 9 RBI, he captured his second MVP award. Two years later he led the Phillies to the World Series again, only to lose to the Baltimore Orioles in five games. It was Schmidt's final postseason appearance.
The Phillies never finished higher than second during the next six years, but Schmidt gave the fans some memorable moments, including earning his third MVP award in 1986 and hitting his five hundredth home run in 1987. He also learned to joke about the city's negative media, surprising them with the memorable quip, "Philadelphia is the only place where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day." On another occasion, after he criticized Phillies fans in the newspapers, Schmidt, in a psychological masterstroke, donned a long-haired wig and a pair of dark sunglasses and took the field incognito the next day. The fans, who had been waiting eagerly to boo him for his remarks, took to their feet and gave him a standing ovation instead.
When he retired on 29 May 1989, Schmidt did so with the same integrity that had come to characterize his seventeen-year major league career. He stated that he had always set high standards for himself and that he believed he could no longer play up to those standards, and admitted, "I could ask the Phillies to make me a part-time player in order to add to my statistical totals. However, my respect for the game, my teammates, and the fans won't allow me to do that." Fighting back tears, he continued: "I left Dayton, Ohio, with two very bad knees and a dream to become a major league baseball player. I thank God that the dream came true." Schmidt settled in Jupiter, Florida, where he became a golf pro. On 30 July 1995 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Schmidt wrote, with Barbara Walder, Always on the Offense (1982). His career is covered in William C. Kashatus, Mike Schmidt: Philadelphia's Hall of Fame Third Baseman (2000). See also Hal Bodley, Philadelphia Phillies, World Champions 1980: The Team That Wouldn't Die (1981).
William C. Kashatusm