Mike Schmidt is a name synonymous with the city of Philadelphia and baseball in the 1970s and 1980s.
A three-time MVP and 14-time All-Star, Schmidt took the baseball world by storm. He continues to influence and mentor young players.
The face of Phillies baseball, Schmidt’s abilities as a player helped lead the team to their first World Series championship. Those abilities also propelled him into the Hall of Fame.
Schmidt’s story is one of hard work and perseverance.
Making his way from a young kid in Dayton, Ohio to the big city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Schmidt’s career is one of the most dominant in the history of the game. This is not just for his statistics as a player but also for his consistency over his two decades in the league.
Michael Jack Schmidt was born on September 27, 1949, to parents Jack and Lois in Dayton, Ohio.
From the start of his life, he was interested in sports and possessed natural athletic abilities.
Growing up, Schmidt played baseball, basketball, football, and golf with the urging of his father.
In a now-famous incident, Schmidt fell out of a tree as a young boy and grabbed ahold of electrical wires to prevent his fall.
As a result, the young Schmidt had 4,000 volts go through him, causing multiple burns and bruises.
The majority of the electricity went straight into the ground as he fell.
At Fairview High School, Schmidt participated in all three sports but knee injuries cut his basketball and football playing short, leaving him to focus solely on baseball.
He was an extremely hard-working athlete, spending hours at the batting cages.
From Struggle to Stardom
Despite his dedication to the game, Schmidt struggled on the baseball team.
A switch hitter, he showed very little power and was often overmatched.
His poor high school performance resulted in little attention from professional teams or universities.
He decided to attend Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where as a freshman, he made the baseball team as a walk-on.
His struggles continued at the collegiate level, and he hit just one home run on the year.
Schmidt decided to continue playing baseball the following summer, looking to gain experience and improve in all facets of his game.
Playing in his hometown’s summer league, Schmidt began to show considerable improvement on defense and especially on offense.
He played a good defensive shortstop, and his bat began to show more speed and pop.
When he returned to play college baseball the following year, he was convinced by his coach Bob Wren to abandon switch-hitting and stick to batting right-handed full time.
The suggestion paid off handsomely.
Schmidt batted over .300 and hit 10 home runs in both his sophomore and junior seasons, a far cry from his disappointing freshman campaign.
He was named an All-American both years for his performance and began to receive more attention from interested professional teams.
The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Schmidt in the second round of the 1971 amateur draft, 30th overall.
He reported to Reading, Pennsylvania for his first taste of professional baseball as a member of the Reading Phillies.
He played shortstop in an exhibition game for the Major League Phillies against Reading but spent the entirety of the 1971 season with the minor league team.
— Phanatic (@19802008CHAMPS) June 17, 2019
Schmidt was promoted to the Phillies’ AAA club for the 1972 season.
Over the course of almost two years in the Phillies’ minor league system, Schmidt provided respectable offense and played good defense at third and second base in addition to his natural position of shortstop.
Welcome to the Show
The Phillies were impressed by Schmidt’s potential and versatility and called him up to the big league team in September of 1972.
In limited playing time, Schmidt hit one home run with a .206 batting average.
Schmidt was the primary third baseman in Philadelphia in 1973.
Mike struggled at the plate and batted under .200 in 132 games, but he showed some power potential with 18 home runs.
The 1974 season was a breakout one for Schmidt, as he played in all 162 of the Phillies’ games and was selected to the National League All-Star team for the first time in his career.
He had an impressive season with the bat, slugging 36 home runs and batting .282.
Schmidt also demonstrated his base-running abilities as he stole 23 bases.
Using modern-day metrics, 1974 was the best season of Schmidt’s career as he totaled nearly 10 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which led the league.
He finished sixth in MVP voting.
In 1975, the Phillies had a successful season.
The team won 86 games, a notable improvement over the 80 wins the previous season and a considerable improvement on the year before when the team had the worst record in baseball.
They would finish second in the National League East.
Schmidt’s offensive numbers were a bit wonky, hitting 38 home runs to lead the league, but he also led the league in strikeouts and his batting average dropped considerably to just .249.
He spent the entire season adjusting his batting stance and his swing with varying results.
Frustrated by his lack of consistency, Schmidt joined other members of the team in meditating in the hopes it would clear his head and improve his performance at the plate.
The following year, the Phillies finished in first place in the NL East with more than 100 wins thanks in part to Schmidt’s fantastic season.
He won his first Gold Glove and again led the league in home runs, hitting 38 bombs in a repeat of the previous season.
The Phillies were swept by the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS despite the impressive campaign.
The Face of the Phillies
After three great seasons manning the hot corner in Philadelphia, the Phillies signed Schmidt to a contract extension that made him the highest-paid player in the history of baseball, a six-year deal worth over $3 million.
The 1977 season was another fantastic one for the now highly-paid Schmidt.
He hit 38 home runs for the third year in a row and made his third All-Star team.
By this point in his career, Schmidt had cemented himself as one of the best players in the game and the consensus best third baseman.
The Phillies won the NL East for the second year in a row but would again lose in the NLCS, this time to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Phillies would fall again to the Dodgers in the NLCS in 1978.
Schmidt played in 145 games for the Phillies that year and hit 27 home runs with 78 RBI.
A respectable season by anyone else’s standards, it was a rare down year for the star third baseman.
A Legend Joins the Team
Looking to get over the NLCS hurdle, the Phillies brought in reinforcements for the 1979 season, signing seasoned veteran Reds alumni Pete Rose to bolster their lineup.
Rose played first base (he had played third base with the Reds) and added on-base potential to an already powerful Phillies lineup.
Upon the signing, Schmidt reflected on the signing by saying:
“It’s unbelievable that, in 1979, Pete joined the Phillies. The player I wanted so much to be like as a kid was now my teammate, friend, and mentor.”
Despite the added firepower, the Phillies had a disappointing season.
They finished with just 84 wins and a fourth-place NL East finish.
Schmidt had a fantastic season at the plate and showed his best power numbers yet, slugging a Phillies-record 45 home runs.
He drove in more than 100 runs and was named to another All-Star team, his fourth.
He had an even more impressive campaign in 1980.
His 48 home runs and league-leading 121 runs batted in propelled him to his first MVP Award.
The Phillies finally made it past the NLCS after defeating the Houston Astros, three games to two.
A Champion at Last
Facing the Kansas City Royals in the 1980 World Series, Schmidt’s offense helped the Phillies win their first-ever championship in their third appearance, and he won the World Series MVP Award for his performance.
Finally a World Series champion and MVP, Schmidt entered 1981 with newfound confidence and had his best season to date until a player’s strike halted the season.
At the time of the work stoppage, Schmidt was leading the NL in many offensive categories, including home runs.
He won his second MVP in a row in a near-unanimous fashion, but the Phillies fell short of another World Series appearance due to the wonky playoff format caused by the strike.
The team was in first place when the strike began but ended the season with a loss to the Montreal Expos in baseball’s first-ever Division Series.
Schmidt signed another six-year contract extension with the Phillies before the 1982 season, but injuries nagged at him throughout the year, and the Phillies failed to make the postseason.
Schmidt still had a good campaign, making his seventh All-Star appearance and finishing the season with 35 home runs and a .280 batting average.
In 1983, the Phillies, led by Schmidt and Rose, defeated the Dodgers in the NLCS and squared off against the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series following an impressive 90-win season.
The Orioles defeated the Phillies easily in the World Series in five games with Schmidt collecting just one hit the entire series.
Rose Moves On
Rose left the team in free agency following the season and the Phillies were counting on Schmidt to lead the team back to the postseason.
Schmidt made his sixth All-Star Game in a row in 1984, once again leading the National League in home runs with 36 and runs batted in with 106.
His performance couldn’t carry the Phillies back to the postseason, though, and they finished with a disappointing 81-81 record.
While now in his mid-30s, Schmidt remained one of baseball’s best hitters and served as an important veteran leader in Philadelphia.
The Beginning of the End
The 1984 season marked a stretch of disappointing and underachieving seasons for the Phillies.
After years of durability, Schmidt’s body began to wear down, and he moved to first base in 1985 so he could focus more on hitting and play a less physically demanding position.
Mike Schmidt, Swing Down Story Sunday: slumping all season, Schmidt utilized chopping approach facing Doc Gooden on 8.15.85, hitting HR off high FB. Michael Jack finished out 1985 w/approach & won 1986 NL MVP w/it. #SheGone #Phillies @baseballhall pic.twitter.com/d2n8rc8lF2
— ᴛᴏɴʏ ᴡᴜᴇɴᴄʜ (@twuench) December 27, 2021
A perennial Gold Glove winner in years past, Schmidt could no longer effectively play his natural third base.
The Phillies were no longer an NL powerhouse just two years after their second World Series appearance in four years.
They finished with a losing record for the first time in 11 seasons.
Schmidt had another good offensive campaign, belting 33 home runs as a first baseman.
The Phillies moved Schmidt back to third base for the 1986 season, and he responded by winning his third MVP.
He once again led the NL in home runs and RBI, sparking a late-career resurgence.
Schmidt’s last great season would be in 1987, as he once again hit more than 30 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs.
Injuries and wear and tear began to catch up with Schmidt after this, particularly a shoulder injury that hindered his offensive capabilities.
In 1988 and 1989, which were Schmidt’s final two seasons in the big leagues, he hit a combined 18 home runs and batted just .226.
The End of an Era
Having been voted the best player in Phillies history in a 1983 fan vote, Schmidt announced his retirement from baseball in late May.
At the time of his retirement from the game, an emotional Schmidt commented:
“I feel like I could easily ask the Phillies to make me a part-time player, to hang around for a couple of years to add to my statistical totals. However, my respect for the game, my teammates, and the fans won’t allow me to do that. For that reason, I have decided to retire as an active player.”
Mike Schmidt finished his Major League career with over 100 WAR, over 2,000 base hits, 548 home runs, and 10 Gold Glove Awards, He made 12 All-Star games and won the NL MVP three times, tied for second place in baseball history trailing only Barry Bonds.
— ⚾ J. Daniel ⚾ (@JDaniel2033) July 6, 2022
Schmidt led the NL in home runs an astounding eight times, proving himself to be one of baseball’s all-time great power bats.
He was also instrumental in bringing the Phillies their first-ever World Series championship in 1980, winning the World Series MVP.
Life After Baseball
Reflecting on his life as a baseball player, Schmidt said:
“If you could equate the amount of time and effort put in mentally and physically into succeeding on the baseball field and measured it by the dirt on your uniform, mine would have been black.”
After having his number 20 retired by the Phillies in 1990, Schmidt was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1995.
He received 96.5% of the vote, joining fellow Veterans’ Committee inductee and Phillies great Richie Ashburn.
Phillies fans were ecstatic at this and many traveled to attend the ceremony in Cooperstown, New York.
In addition to his Hall of Fame induction, Schmidt was named the 1980s player of the decade in 1990 by Sporting News.
In his post-Major League life, Schmidt has been very active in the game of baseball in various roles.
Following his retirement in 1989, Schmidt joined the Phillies’ broadcasting crew and made appearances pregame for CBS.
Not a natural commentator, Schmidt decided not to pursue further broadcasting work and turned his attention to his private life and, for the most part, remained outside of the public eye.
In the early 2000s, the Phillies invited Schmidt to their spring training facilities to serve as a coach and mentor for the young prospects coming up through their farm system.
He even agreed to become the manager of the Phillies A-ball team but only for one season.
He returned to his spring role every spring training through the late 2010s.
Off the Field
Off the field, Schmidt has been vocal on various topics in the baseball world, including the steroid era and sports gambling, writing multiple books on his opinions and experiences as a player.
On steroids in baseball, Schmidt commented he could not condone players using performance-enhancing drugs. However, he cannot say for certain whether or not he would have been tempted to use them during his playing career, citing every player’s inherent competitiveness and desire to be the best player they can be.
He has also been outspoken on the topic of former teammate Pete Rose’s ban from baseball, believing that Rose’s accomplishments on the field and his admission of having bet on games when he was a player and manager should make him eligible for reinstatement.
More than 30 years have passed since Michael Jack Schmidt hung up his cleats for the last time and bid Philadelphia farewell.
He finished his career as undoubtedly the greatest Philadelphia Phillie of all time, surpassing the likes of Steve Carlton and Richie Ashburn.
After injuries hampered his ability as a high school athlete in football and basketball, Schmidt persevered through high school and college, improving every season through dedication and a strong work ethic.
Schmidt was a staple of baseball highlights throughout the 1970s and 1980s and remains a godlike figure in the city of Philadelphia.
Combining immense power, elite defense, and a consistently great career, Schmidt is not only among the greatest baseball players in the history of the game but possibly the greatest third baseman ever.