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February 28, 2016

The Q&A ... with Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt

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022916_mikeschmidt_RL Ryan Lawrence/for PhillyVoice

Guest instructor and Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt watches batting practice in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER, Fla. – If you ask anyone in Philadelphia who they think of when you say "Phillies baseball," you are likely to get a lot of different answers. 

People under 30 might say "Chase Utley" or "Jimmy Rollins." Others might say "Richie Ashburn," both a Hall of Fame player and an extremely popular broadcaster in Philadelphia, or his Hall of Fame partner in the booth, "Harry Kalas." The "Phillie Phanatic" would probably get some votes, too.

If you did a similar poll and ask anyone who the greatest player in Phillies history is, Mike Schmidt would win in a landslide. 

Schmidt played the entirety of his 18-year, Hall of Fame career with the Philadelphia Phillies. The 3-time MVP, 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner is considered the greatest third baseman in baseball history.

Although Schmidt retired in 1989, he's been involved with the Phillies in one way or another for the majority of his post-playing career. This season, he's back in the TV broadcast booth for home weekend games for Comcast SportsNet and he's also an instructor in spring training, something he began doing in 2002. 

Schmidt, now 66 and a recent cancer survivor, sat down with Philly Voice before a recent workout in Clearwater for The Q&A. Fittingly, Schmidt is batting fourth in The Q&A, following Pete Mackanin, Aaron Nola, and Nick Williams.

Why do you keep doing this? You could be golfing, hanging out with grandkids, right?

     Mike Schmidt: I could be. It’s a part of my sort of post-career agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies. It involves my work in spring training, my broadcasting, and my work with Dave Buck in the marketing side of the club.

And you enjoy working with the young players?

     Yeah, I do enjoy it. It gives me just enough time in uniform. It helps me get to know the guys. So I do enjoy that. I think my career is such a big part of my life, baseball. It’s not something I want to give up right now. I did stay away from it for about 10 years after retirement. When I got back in 2000, it was fun. I’ve had a lot of different assignments over the years. Some spring trainings they’ve given me specific things to do, during others I’ve just roamed around and developed relationships. This year I have a couple of projects going on. But I feel relevant with the club. I think that’s a good thing.

I remember watching you play when I was a kid. But there’s this whole generation that didn’t get to do that - so it’s good to stay connected, right?

     Yeah, I feel with the broadcasting and here in spring training, and my work with sponsors and season tickets holders, I’m in a real good place.

The (uniform) number 20 - did you pick it, did someone just give it to you? What’s the history there?

     It was just given to me. I started off as No.22 when I was recalled from Triple-A to spend 2-3 weeks in September in the majors in 1972. And then over that offseason Roger Freed, who wore No.20, was traded. Roger Freed wore No.20. For some reason, the names on the roster changed and that was the jersey in my locker when I got to spring training.

So no meaning or history?

     Well, you develop a meaning no matter what your number is. If you’re 22 or 24 or 40 or whatever, you know, you look over the history of the game and you see what other players wore the same number as you, as I did. Frank Robinson, Don Sutton, Lou Brock. [Laughs.] We have our little No.20 club.

And the most famous Philadelphia athlete over the last 20 years, probably: Brian Dawkins.

     I wouldn’t know that. … He came along long after I retired.

One of the most famous photos of you is when you wore that wig. Whatever happened to that wig?

     I have no idea. Larry Andersen might still have it. I doubt if he does, that’s 1985. So that’s over 30 years ago.

Peter Morgan/AP

Mike Schmidt appears on the field wearing a long hair wig and dark glasses at the start of a game vs. the Chicago Cubs in Philadelphia on July 2, 1985 in an attempt to hide from the fans.

Probably could use a good cleaning…

     Yeah, I imagine it’s disintegrated. I don’t know where that wig is but yeah, that wig saved me one night. We were expected a pretty rough night when they introduced the club. Back then, that year, they introduced the club by position … and you ran out to the position when you were introduced. I was playing first base that night. They did that every game for a few years back then. I was playing first base at the end of that year, the last half of 1985. We had a game that started the whole thing, a rain-delayed game that went way into the night. It seemed like there were only a 100 people left in the stands when it ended and I had a bad game. We lost the game. A lot of kids hanging over the dugout, yelling obscenities and things that weren’t too pleasant to us. I said something about the Philly fans – I lumped the Philly fans (together). And it was a very small percentage (that night) and I lumped them all together. [Laughs] The word got out the next day and no one wanted to stand next to me. So after batting practice, we were all talking about it in the clubhouse, trying to figure out a way where I could diffuse the negatives that were about to happen and it was a big crowd that night, we were playing the Cubs. So I put the sunglasses on, the wig, and the hat and ran out to first base. It sort of stunned the crowd and turned into cheers rather than boos.

Who is your favorite all-time teammate?

     I would say my best friend from my career would be Garry Maddox or closest friend. Bob Boone would be right there. I shouldn't differentiate between those two, but they are the two guys I carried the most lasting friendship with, Garry Maddox and Bob Boone. Not to say anything about other guys. I’m very close to Greg Luzinski. (Larry) Bowa and I are good friends. Our friendship only got stronger when I came back and he was manager in 2000. But, yeah, I roomed with a guy named Ed Farmer for a couple of years and we got to be very close friends. I might be leaving somebody out but those are the guys that come to mind.

Just as everyone remembers Brad Lidge dropping to his knees, everyone remembers you jumping into the pile (after 1980 World Series was clinched). What other memories, singular moments, stick out when you think back on your career?

     Well, you’re talking about 17, 18 years. Golly, if you start at the beginning, something that jumps out is a home run to beat Bob Gibson, a walk-off home run my first year in ’73. Bob Gibson, a guy I grew up watching on TV. He was kind of at the end of the line, but we were playing the Cardinals and I hooked a fly ball down the line that went out of the park and it was a walk-off home run. So early on… then I hit a home run on Opening Day off Tug McGraw in ’74. And then ’76 of, course, we had the four-home run game and went on to win our first division title after that. Then 1980, how could you not enjoy a clean sweep: a World Championship, a World Series MVP, the MVP of the league that year. The strike year of 1981 I probably had my best year ever even though it was a strike-shortened year. It was the only year I hit .300 - I think I hit .316 that year. But it was only, again, right around 100 games or less. I won the MVP that year, too. Then we had the Wheeze Kids. (Pete) Rose and (Joe) Morgan and Tony Perez came to the team, that was tons of fun obviously for a lot of reasons. I got to play with Pete, got to go to the World Series with him. Let’s see, won the third MVP in ’86, that was exciting. Then it sort of tailed off after that. After that…

The 500 home run sticks out.

   That’s true, that’s true. How could I forget that?

And that call. Everything about it, you doing the little (celebration jig).

     That sticks with me to that day. That’s kind of the introduction line that I get when I’m speaking somewhere, that’s the one that stuck to me, which is a good one. Of course, our old friend Harry Kalas did the ‘Michael Jack’ thing. And when you move on to the end of my career, getting elected to start the All-Star Game after I was retired.

Had to be a weird experience?

     One of my favorites, though. It made me feel good that my career was highly respected.

The retirement speech is something people talk about, too.

     Yeah, yeah. Right, right. That was very emotional.

I guess when something is a part of your life for that long, that’s going to happen.

     Baseball for me, you know, 20 years of professional baseball. It was hard to walk away from it for me. But everything comes to an end. But a new life started for me then. So everything as far as timing worked out perfect for me. And then the number being retired. So those are 10-15 things that were real important to me and Phillie fans and the organization.

Would you ever consider broadcasting full-time?

     No. What I’ve got is really nice. I live in Rhode Island (near grandkids) in the summer time, so it’s an hour flight to Philly two times a month and I go for four days. I think, as I said earlier, by broadcasting has given Phillie fans a different look at me as a person. A lighter side of me. Maybe only as some knew, with the way the press portrayed me, or the way they saw me on the field. So (people) get to see me in a lighter environment.

More of the personality…

     They get to see more of the real me, in a less pressured environment. Older guy, smarter head on my shoulders. More experience. They get to see me interacting in a different kind of environment. I think that’s been a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for me.

Barry Bonds. Do you think he should be a Hall of Famer one day?

     [Long pause]. Um, that’s one of those questions that’s really so subjective. It’s like Pete, when they ask you that question of whether they should be in the Hall of Fame. Look, Barry Bonds, I guess, has never failed a drug test (but) all signs point in the eye test that he probably did do some things he probably shouldn’t have done over the span of his career. You know, I’m just going to pass on that question. I’m going to plead the fifth. [laughs]. It can’t do me any good to answer that question.

I can relate, I’m eight years in (to the Baseball Writers Association of America) and I’m kind of glad I don’t have a vote because I’m not even sure exactly how I’d tackle it.

     My answer wouldn’t be, “No.” But then again I’m not saying it’s factual that he failed tests. And if I say, 'Yeah, Barry Bonds should be a Hall of Famer…'

Then you’d be saying you’d support a guy who may have done what many assume he did.

     [Laughs] Exactly. Exactly. The Pete (Rose) thing I can handle, I’m pretty used to that question.

And Pete you think should be, and that he’s just made it harder for himself?

     Pete didn’t handle it right. I think everybody would agree with that. Pete was never good with being what people thought he should be. Pete’s career surely stands on its own. He’s a good friend of mine. I’d love to see Pete get an opportunity in the Hall of Fame. But I don’t know that Pete would get elected. I would love to see him get reinstated. I’m glad they put an end to the whole Pete Rose saga, and they’re letting him go to the ballpark and be honored and have some presence in baseball.

How about having him in (the Hall) but having it state on the plaque what he did?

     Pete just couldn’t stay out of the casinos and stay away from the gambling and all of that.

Favorite current Phillie?

     My favorite current Phillie. [Pauses]. That’s a tough one.

I’ve heard you were raving about Franco, but I guess that’s natural since he plays third base, has power.

     Oh, you mean from a player standpoint? [Pauses] I’m going to try to answer that, but I don’t have an answer, just because the first guy I mention doesn’t mean he’s my favorite.

That’s fine.

     They’re all tied. But I enjoy Freddy (Galvis) a lot because he’s one guy I can point to and say that my tutelage last year helped him. He still subscribes to it. [Keeping the ball on the ground, less uppercut]. I love watching Odubel Herrera because he’s an individual, a very different kind of style of hitting but everybody watches him hit. And he does so many unique things as a hitter. He’s a tough kid and he’s durable. He’s going to win a batting title someday and he’s got a smile on his face all the time.

A lot of energy all the time.

     Exactly. And for a lot of reasons I like (Andres) Blanco. He’s good with everybody. He’s outgoing, he’s a great teammate (and) he understands his role. I really like, just potential, I’m a Franco guy. I think Franco is going to win an MVP sometime in the not-too-distant future. I think he’s got that kind of talent. You know years ago, I loved Chase Utley and I probably would have said that. Jimmy Rollins is a great kid. And you know what, Ryan Howard is a great kid, too. He takes a lot of abuse.

You could probably relate to that…

     Sure, sure, sure…

….as the guy in the clubhouse, the guy making the most money, you’re going to get the most criticism. It’s part of the package.

     Yeah, yeah. And, through it all, and I don’t listen to his press conferences or read specifics on what he said, but I know Ryan is a good guy. He says “hi” to me all the time. He’ll listen when you talk hitting. He might not employ some of the things you suggest. He’s pretty stubborn when it comes to hitting. But he’s a good guy and he comes to the ballpark and he comes ready to play every day. And he’ll play every day. With the exception of one injury, he’s been a very durable kid. And he’s been able to keep a smile on his face through all of this adversity he’s gone through in the last couple of years. I admire that. He might not know it, but I really do. I wouldn't leave him out of that question of who would be my favorite Phillie, absolutely not.

Last question - how’s your health?

     My health right now is very good. I’m sort of in between scans. I have to get scans every 6 months. Brain, Body, CT scans. Just to make sure. They get to be kind of anxious times when you have to go to the hospital and do a CT scan. I’m kind of used to those things and I’ve been very lucky to keep getting positive results from all of those scans. I’m growing old, I’m 66. Golly, it’s tough getting out of bed in the morning. You go to the bathroom more than you used to. It seems like every day you find a new ache and a pain. But when you go through what I’ve gone through those little things are pleasant, they’re pleasant to have. Things are good right now.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21