Career w/Phillies: .267 AVG / 548 HR / 1,595 RBI / 174 SB
These days, 548 home runs doesn’t seem so grand. It seems each season another hitter who dumped balls into seats during the 1990s surpasses Mike Schmidt’s now mortal total of 548. But a closer examination of Schmidt’s career shows you why those 548 mean much more. Take the nine Gold Glove awards at third base. Take the 10 winning seasons under Schmidt’s reign. Take the 18 seasons in a Phillie uniform, still a franchise record. Always a Phillie, never intimidated, and never surpassed, Mike Schmidt is the greatest third baseman in baseball history and, yes, the greatest Phillie of them all.
It’s a forgone conclusion for most. Sure, you can consider Steve Carlton or Pete Alexander or Ed Delahanty. But Schmidt is the gold standard at third base — his combination of raw power, clutch performance, baseball intelligence and defensive gracefulness remains untouched at the hot corner. Eddie Matthews had the bat; Brooks Robinson had the glove. Alex Rodriguez had the bat and some glove; Scott Rolen had the glove and some bat. But Schmidt had everything.
Scouted on a ballfield in Canton, Ohio, and drafted by the Phillies in 1970, Schmidt rapidly ascended to Philadelphia an incredibly raw player. Anthony Hewitt raw. He hit under or at .200 his first two seasons with the Phillies, striking out a ton, taking his licks. He finally jumped into the starting role for good in 1973, and very quickly assured fans he was the guy for a little while.
The power came first; the glove was right there. Now flashing a trademark mustache, Schmidt swatted 36 home runs and drove in 116 in 1974. As Schmidt progressed, so did the Phillies — pitcher Steve Carlton bolstered the staff while a growing contingency around Schmidt (Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski) settled into their roles. By 1976 the Phillies were not just a playoff team, but a downright buzzsaw. Inexperience and a little lack of that extra something kept the Phils from grabbing a pennant.
As Schmidt ran through his elite prime the numbers raced up. 38 home runs in 1975. 38 more in 1976. Another 38 in 1977. He led the league in bombs from ’74-’76. His average also climbed from .249 in ’75 to a respectable .274 in ’77. Even more impressive — his on-base percentage rose toward .400, mainly because of high-walk seasons. He even stole close to 30 bases twice. And of course, the Gold Gloves started in 1976.
But as the 1970s closed, Schmidt’s game stalled. An uncharacteristically poor 1978 signaled a possible downfall. But Schmidt returned in 1979 with a 45-homer season, second in the National League. His best was yet to come.
1980 was special for Schmidt. He hit a career-high 48 homers, drove in a career-high 121 and hit a very nice .286. His game also transcended into a clutch game, as he belted the home run that won the National League East for the Phillies. Seven wins later, Schmidt was a regular-season MVP, a World Series MVP (two homers, seven RBI) and a champion.
Meanwhile his defense was becoming legendary. He tracked balls like a Hoover, glided across the Veterans Stadium turf as he made tough plays look simple, and even maxed out his body many times for the sake of making an out.
Truly, no player made baseball look so easy as Mike Schmidt.
His game took off even more in 1981, despite a strike shortening the season. He hit .316 with 31 homers and 91 RBI in just 102 games. He easily won his second MVP award as Phillie fans wondered just how good that season could’ve been. Luckily, Schmidt returned with more treats as the ’80s continued.
A 35-homer season was helped by a .280 average in 1982. He hit another 40 bombs in 1983, rattling off a slew of 30-homer seasons after that. His apex in this run would be 1986, a 37-homer, .290 average season that landed Schmidt his then-record third MVP award. In the later stages of his career Schmidt had fancied himself an average hitter, striking more than 150 hits per season consistently while striking out less than 120 times per season consistently. With age came finer play.
But in 1988, Schmidt injured his rotator cuff, shortening his season terribly. The writing was already on the wall, and in 1989 Schmidt played poorly. He was hitting .203, unquestionably having his worst season since 1973. After a game in San Diego, Schmidt decided he couldn’t do anymore.
Years of shutting himself off from the fans and even the media poured out as Schmidt said only this in a press conference:
“Some 18 years ago I left Dayton, Ohio with two very bad knees … and a dream to become a major-league baseball player. I thank God that dream came true.”
He completely broke down.
After a moment, Richie Ashburn moved to console Schmidt as he painfully cried away his career.
The legacy lives on: Thirteen 30-homer seasons. Nine 100-RBI seasons. More than 2,200 hits. More than 1,500 runs scored. Ten Gold Glove awards. Three Most Valuable Player awards. And of course, those 548 home runs.
Sure Barry Bonds and Co. have surpassed titans like Schmidt. But to this day, you can still contend that, again, no one made it look easier than Michael Jack.
Comment: There ain’t nothin’ more to say. This list is outta’ here.