The State of the Schmidt
It happens every spring...
The most decorated player in the history of the franchise arrives in Clearwater and fields questions on a variety of Phillies and Major League Baseball topics. Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt showed up in Clearwater Sunday, the start of a near-monthlong role as a roving hitter instructor.
Here is some of what Schmidt had to say during a chat with the press corps Monday:
Q: You're going to be in camp longer this year, right?
Schmidt: "The intentions were to be here through the middle of the month, but I might be here even longer than that."
Q: Did Charlie talk to you about doing more?
Schmidt: "I have a little bit more a tighter job description than I did in the past. What it will lead to I'm not sure. They asked me to be a little more involved than I have in the past with hitting programs. I've been involved in past years, but this year might be a little more one-on-one with guys just chatting more specifically about in-game hitting strategy.
There will be times when I chat with guys about mechanics, but for the most part the additions I'm going to offer this year are in-game strategies like, 'Let's be more aggressive in fastball counts, let's be tougher to strike out, let's figure out a way to give up fewer at-bats.'"
Q: Is it possible to teach veteran guys to change their approach?
Schmidt: "It depends on how you define approach I guess. When you say approach, if you're talking about his mechanical style or his mental approach. You can get a guy to think more about his craft. You need to come to the park and you darn sure better know who's pitching tonight for starters.
I've heard stories that there have been an occasion where a guy would come to the park and ask the hitting coach who is pitching tonight. I can't even fathom that. We used to know who was pitching four weeks down the road. We'd start formulating our game plan with a guy a week ahead of time.
I changed and I was very stubborn throughout my career. I was in my 14th year and made major change to my approach both mentally and physically. I became maybe the best hitter in my career in my last couple of years. That's another thing. Guys need to want to improve. Guys want to not be satisfied with where they are."
Q: Comparing Phillies eras: is this team is best era of Phils baseball, or yours?
Schmidt: "Oh sure there’s no question that era this current run of 5-6 years is the strongest baseball era in Phillies history. To be on top for as long as they have been, gosh, since Charlie has been here, this is by far the top era in Phillies baseball."
Q: Why better than yours?
Schmidt: "They’ve contended more, won more games. With all due respect to the Vet and all the years that we’ve had, they were great years. The environment around Phillies baseball right now, I don’t see how it could have ever been better. A full stadium every night, sold out. Pitching staff they have no is maybe one of the greatest ever in the history of the sport. A team full of potential All-Star players – almost all of them have been All-Stars at one point. We had that to a degree. But I think they’ve separated themselves over the last 5-6 years from the rest of the league much more so than we did."
Q: But you had three Hall of Famers on your team...
Schmidt: "Yeah. There is potential for that. In my lifetime I would think that there is a block of guys on this team right now that I’ll see at Cooperstown sometime. All things progressing as they have. Surely Utley and Howard and Rollins. As time progresses and they apply themselves and have 15, 16, 18-year careers, they would project out to be in that kind of Hall of Fame-caliber player. It’s a little early to talk about that, but if you look down the road 10, 12 years from now, why wouldn’t they?"
Q: Did you watch Phils-Cardinals playoff series?
Schmidt: "Yes I did. And I stared at that TV for a half hour after it was over (laughs), I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Just like a lot of the fans in the stands, staring at the field. Kind of dumb-founded. I guess that’s why they play them, they play the games. I was thinking on the way in here what you guys might ask me. The Phillies won 102 games last year and the better part of the season, especially early on, and all due respect to those guys but they played 3 guys on a regular basis who were technically supposed to be extra men or bench players, right? I mean, imagine winning 102 games when you played almost 1/3 of the season, in fact, when you think about guys like Valdez and Martinez, one of those guys seemed like they were in the lineup the entire year. The entire year! So to still win 102 games I mean, in my estimation the Phillies won the regular season, they won the 162-game test, they were the best team in the National League over that period. They just lost the tournament. They lost the tournament to a hot team, sort of the team of destiny. And who knows what would have happed had they beat St. Louis. But Cliff Lee with a 4-run lead in Game 2. I was looking in the Cardinals dugout on TV and it was like, those guys, in their eyes, it was like, “Can we throw the towel in and get the heck out of here. We surrender. That’s kind of the way it looked. And then the great game of baseball changed it. Boom, boom, boom, ball drops into CF and the whole complexion of the postseason changes just like that."
Q: You also have playoff failures. Harder watching on TV or living through it?
Schmidt: “Oh, I’d say on the field. I’m a big fan and watch every inning of every game pretty much, but I’m not an immediate member of the traveling party and living with them day in and day out. It was hard, and I can imagine how hard it was for them, for sure.”
Q: Your reaction when you guys lost?
Schmidt: “You guys remember the numbers better than I do, but I just remember the final game and Carpenter shut them out 1-0. You remember the final game, the final at-bat – you sure remember the final at-bat with Howard.”
Q: Yeah, but what about your games?
Schmidt: “I always go well we lost it because of me. That’s what I always did. We’d have probably won them all if I’d got hot. I wasn’t even close to hot in any of those postseason series. I don’t even think I got an RBI – maybe one or two. But my postseason record up until 1980 was pathetic. You’d think if the cleanup hitter had maybe hit a home run or two here and there or maybe broke a game open, we probably would’ve won. So I had to answer questions about the team, but in my own mind I always blamed myself.”
Q: Can you identify with Howard?
Schmidt: “Absolutely. Are you kidding? I’ve been right in his shoes. I’m a little short on the financial side. But for in my day, I was making more money than him. I was the highest-paid player. I could feel his pain without a doubt.”
Q: Talk to Ryan about it?
Schmidt: “Yeah. I haven’t talked to him specifically about the actual happening over the last two years, and how he felt, and I’ve been there and felt that way. But in the past, we’ve had one-on-one chats where I’ve used myself as an example about being where he is at that time in the season. We’ve chatted, and hey I’ve been there Ryan and I know what it’s like, and I think he knows he and I are very similar in that sense in that we’re the cleanup hitters and the guy expected to come through and the guy making the most money. We probably get the most opportunities to make things happen and so we probably fail more than anybody. The focus is probably on us more than anybody else, for sure.”
Q: Phillies added another pretty good power hitter in Jim Thome. It's tough to compare hitters of different eras, but he's a future Hall of Famer, so where does he rank for you in all-time power hitter, home run hitters?
Schmidt: "Well, he’s about No. 7 or 8. That’s where I was when I retired. I was seventh when I retired. Where is he? Golly. How do you describe Jim Thome? First of all, he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. I guess maybe Jim kind of gets overlooked when you’re talking about the all-time great hitters and should not ever be overlooked. A 21-year career is pretty darn long. I guess Jim hasn’t played in LA or New York. The closest he’s gotten to the big time is Philadelphia. His personality, he’s a quiet guy, quiet family man. He doesn’t bring a lot of attention to himself. He keeps things simple in his interviews. He’s a pretty simple guy. Very clean career and life. He’s stayed out of the headlines. Having said that, Jim’s power numbers far surpass mine. So whatever you rate me in history as an offensive player, he’s better. The only difference between me and him is I was sort of a skill position player, so on the defensive side I probably have some plusses in that part of my game. You’ve got to rate him quite high."