Friday, September 5, 2014

Card #101: Mike Schmidt In Action

Who Can It Be Now?
It's still Mike Schmidt. In yesterday's post, I glossed over much of Schmidt's background other than his failure to be drafted directly out of high school due to his knees.  A book available at least partly through Google Books called Mike Schmidt: Philadelphia's Hall of Fame Third Baseman gives a bit more information about this told from the perspective of Phillies scout Tony Lucadello.

Lucadello claims that he started following Schmidt when Schmidt was a sophomore in high school. One of Lucadello's local bird dogs, a guy named Ed French, told Lucadello about Schmidt. Schmidt was called an excellent athlete and an above average prospect -- but he was also incredibly raw. In other words, he was a toolsy prospect according to Lucadello. 

Stopping there for a moment, one can see this a bit in Schmidt's minor league numbers, but playing college ball definitely refined Schmidt's talents. To an extent, Schmidt's minor league numbers show his rawness -- at least in his first season in the minors in Reading where Schmidt struck out nearly three times more than he walked. 

Going back to Schmidt's high school years now and to Lucadello's story. What I really don't understand about the story Lucadello tells is this: if Lucadello was impressed enough to "follow" Schmidt, why couldn't he convince the Phillies to take a chance on Schmidt straight out of high school? Perhaps it was, as Lucadello said, that other scouts dismissed Schmidt as "damaged goods" due to the injuries to his knees that Schmidt suffered playing football.

That said, one of Schmidt's high school coaches, Dave Palsgrove, talked about Schmidt's work ethic. Even in high school, Schmidt had issues making contact -- but if he did, he would hit it hard somewhere. Schmidt stayed after practices to get better at fielding popups and ground balls, and he would go to batting cages on his own to hit. Schmidt even got a scout for the California Angels, Buddy Bloebaum, to teach him to switch hit. 

Despite all that, only small schools were interested in Schmidt for baseball so Schmidt went to Ohio University on his/his parents' own dime to become an architect. Having worked in construction law for many years, I can tell you that Schmidt would have been a typical architect -- incredibly sure of himself and his own abilities and always quick to say that others should listen to him to learn.  Okay, that's snarky, but architects tend to be pretty narcissistic; Schmidt's confidence in himself as evidenced through both his interviews during his playing days and in his columns for the AP is typical for a more senior architect.

Okay, back to Schmidt and away from my amateur psychology.

Schmidt himself recognized that he developed as an athlete in college.  Again, from the book above:
I was about the fourth or fifth best baseball player in high school -- a .250 hitter, and if you don't hit .400 in high school, nobody knows you're alive. I was always the kid with potential, but even that potential was jeopardized by a couple of major injuries in high school. I was also a late bloomer when it came to confidence and aggressiveness. I don't think I was really willing to fight for myself until I got to college. Not that I wasn't cocky in high school about my athletic ability. I knew I had as much talent for sports as anyone -- I felt that whatever the season, I'd be the best athlete. But there were other players who had all the physical qualities I had and something else besides: they were meaner than I was, tougher mentally.
Schmidt was invited to walk on to the Ohio University baseball team. He sat as a freshman behind shortstop Rich McKinney (drafted by the White Sox in the first round of the 1968 Draft). Schmidt came to national prominence due to that College World Series run I mentioned yesterday. 

When I left off with Schmidt's career yesterday at 1982, I mentioned that I would finish his career today.  Well, Schmidt won one more MVP award in 1986 -- though WAR says that Mike Scott was at least 2 wins better than Schmidt and 1.6 wins better than anyone else in the league. the fact that Schmidt won the MVP at the age of 36 came probably because he led the league in homers and RBI that season.  1986 was also the first time in his entire career that he struck out less than 100 times in a full season (he struck out 71 times in 102 games in 1981).

But, when Schmidt's abilities started to slip, they went fast. He went from being the MVP in 1986 and putting up another strong season in 1987 to getting hurt in 1988. He was put on the Disabled List after playing both ends of a doubleheader on August 12, 1988, due to shoulder problems. He ended up visiting Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham in September and undergoing rotator cuff surgery. Andrews was quoted as saying that he found just a small pit in Schmidt's rotator cuff that needed to be repaired -- a slight tear.  

Schmidt came back in 1989, but it was evident quickly that he was not the same player. He started the season reasonably well -- hitting 5 homers in his first 17 games -- but then he really started to struggle. Over the final 25 games of his career, the Phillies performed poorly -- winning just 7 -- and the team's struggles mirrored Schmidt's.  He hit only one home run, he had just 12 hits in 80 at-bats and only 2 hits in his final 41 at-bats, and he was struggling to make good contact, slashing at .150/.278/.200. Topping it off, the normally sure-fielding Schmidt had made 8 errors at third and five in his final 21 games. As Schmidt himself put it in his retirement statement:
My skills to make the adjustments needed to hit, to make the routine play on defense and to run the bases aggressively have deteriorated. Realizing this, I have decided not to keep on playing, but to retire effectively immediately.
Mustache Check: It's still there.

The World According to Garp
Schmidt has co-authored three books. The first was a reasonably brief (191 pages) autobiography called Always on the Offense that was ghosted by Barbara Walder. His second book was an instructional book called The Mike Schmidt Study: Hitting Theory, Skills and Technique that he co-wrote with/had ghosted by Robert Ellis. 

Schmidt's final book was co-authored with/ghostwritten by one of the original founders of Rotisserie Baseball, Glenn Waggoner (who appears in the 2014 Topps Allen & Ginter set). This book is called Clearing the Bases: Juiced Players, Monster Salaries, Sham Records, and a Hall of Famer's Search for the Soul of Baseball.  To be honest, I'm hesitant to read this book since I fear it may sound an awful lot like Schmidt's "Get off MY lawn" sentiments that I went through yesterday. But, at least it's available for just $5.58 from!

Rabbit Is Rich
In both 1985 and 1987, Schmidt was the highest paid player in the National League, pulling in over $2.1 million in each of those years. In 1986, he was the third-highest paid player behind two members of the New York Mets -- George Foster (who played just 72 games that year for the Mets before they released him on August 7) and Gary Carter.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
There is no question whatsoever that Mike Schmidt is a deserving member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. When he retired in 1989, Schmidt was behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, and Reggie Jackson on the all-time home run list. 

During the past twenty-five years, Schmidt has been passed by Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro.  Out of those, only Griffey and Thome have not been linked definitively with steroid use. So, in the "probably clean" category, Schmidt is tenth. Of course, literally everyone who played major league baseball "might" have used PEDs of some sort -- whether it was greenies/amphetamines, cocaine (not that coke enhanced anyone's ability), steroids, or chocolate bars -- so that's where I'm leaving that discussion for now.

Schmidt was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 by himself at the first time of asking. He received 96.5% of the vote. It's easy to ask this question, but what more could the guy have done to get inducted? I am guessing it is because he only had a career batting average of .267. 

I mean, this is probably the best third baseman ever to play the game -- Bill James said in his Revised Historical Baseball Abstract that Schmidt and George Brett are 1 and 2, with Eddie Mathews third and Wade Boggs fourth -- and I don't have any reason to disagree with James on that.

Yesterday, I mentioned Schmidt's complaining about autograph seekers stalking him on the streets during his playing days. I can understand that complaint, certainly -- I'm sure that he'd like to walk the streets without being mobbed. It may just come down, however, to the fact that he was not getting paid for his autograph.  Yes, more snarkiness from me, but it's tough not to be a bit snarky when you go to and see the wide variety of autographed items that Schmidt has for sale -- balls for $160, incribed balls for $400, bats for $200, photos for $130 to $180, a variety of Topps cards for $110-140 a piece, etc.  

I don't begrudge him the right to make money off his signature at all, but it is a bit ironic that this is a guy who complains about little Johnny not being able to get autographs inexpensively.

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