For Philadelphia Phillies fans, Mike Schmidt stands for everything great about the Phillies and the game of baseball itself. He spent his entire 18-year career in Philadelphia, carving out a legacy at third base that few players in Major League history can rival.
Born Michael Jack Schmidt on September 27, 1949, in Dayton, Ohio, he grew up a versatile athlete with a strong work ethic and a scientific approach to hitting and fielding that would become hallmarks of his major league career. Drafted by the Phillies in 1971 in the second round out of Ohio University, Mike rose quickly through the minor league ranks to join the team during the 1972 season.
His first full season with Phillies, 1973, proved unremarkable, but in 1974 Mike Schmidt broke out to lead the league in home runs. He also started to build his myth as one of the Baseball’s greatest hitters. On June 10 of that year, in a game against the Houston Astros, Mike hit a ball off a speaker hanging from the Astrodome roof, 117 feet above and 329 feet away from home plate. Incredibly, since the speaker was considered part of the field of play and Mike had slowed his stride presuming the hit was a homer, his towering blast resulted only in a single. Had the speaker not interfered, it’s been estimated the ball would have flown 500+ feet!
This prodigious effort foreshadowed a tremendous run of success with both bat and glove. In a career that would span the rest of the decade and most of the next, Mike Schmidt belted 548 career home runs. Exhibiting his signature stance in which he nearly turned his back to the pitcher he hit 40 or more homers in a season three times and 30 or more 10 other times. In 1976, he hit four consecutive home runs in a single game. His 48 round trippers in 1980 set a major league record for a third baseman and helped make him a unanimous selection for the National League Most Valuable Player. The Phillies won the World Series that year, defeating the Kansas City Royals, and Mike’s two homers and seven RBI, along with his usual stellar defensive play, earned him Series MVP honors as well.
Mike won his second National League MVP Award in 1981, leading the Phillies to the post-season. In 1983, Mike led the Phillies back to the World Series, where they fell to the Baltimore Orioles. It was the team’s 100th anniversary and the celebration included a vote by fans for the greatest player in the history of the franchise. Mike was the hands down winner, and more accomplishments still lay ahead.
In 1986, Mike won his third National League MVP Award, a record for a third baseman. His 500th career home run came in 1987 – a ninth-inning game-winner against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, back and knee injuries sidelined Mike during most of the 1988 campaign. In 1989, a slow start prompted him to announce his retirement. In recognition of all he had accomplished, fans nonetheless voted Mike Schmidt to the All-Star Game.
Over his career, Mike Schmidt played in five League Championship Series and two World Series. He was voted National League MVP three times and an All-Star 12 times, nine as a starter. He led the league in Home Runs eight times, RBI four times, Slugging Percentage five times, OPS five times, and Walks four times. Only Hank Aaron (15 times) hit 30 or more homers in a season more times than Mike (13). And only Babe Ruth (12 times) hit 35 homers or more than Mike (11).
No less spectacular on defense, Mike was awarded 10 Gold Gloves – a National League record – for his fielding at the Hot Corner, where he was known to sometimes bare-hand grounders without missing a beat.
On May 26, 1990, the Philadelphia Phillies retired Mike’s uniform number, 20, in a fitting tribute to one of the game’s all-time hardest competitors. They would later erect a statue of him outside outside the third base gate at the team's new home, Citizens Bank Park. He was also named “Sporting News” Player of the Decade for the 1980s.
In 1995, Mike was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, having garnered a whopping 96.52% percentage of votes cast.
In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Mike 28th on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, making him the highest-ranking third baseman on the list. Later that year, he was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Since leaving the game, Mike has largely remained out of the limelight. However, he worked as a TV commentator for Phillies games in 1990, wrote articles on baseball for CBS, coached hitting for the Phillies in 2002, managed a minor league ball club in the Phillies system (Clearwater Theshers) in 2004, and today regularly participates and competes in charity golf tournaments. He also hosts the annual Bahamas Winner Circle Invitational Fishing Tournament to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
In 2006, Mike’s book, "Clearing the Bases: Juiced Players, Shrinking Ballparks, Sham Records, and a Hall of Famer's Search for the Soul of Baseball," was published, serving as his definitive statement about the state of the game he loves so much and played so well.
And just as in his playing days, Mike Schmidt remains direct, hard-hitting, and willing to engage his intellect and energies into the issues that matter most to him. His fans wouldn’t have it any other way.