Part 5 of 6
2 Mike Schmidt
Michael Jack Schmidt was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 and is largely recognized as the greatest third baseman in the history of the game. To follow him throughout his 18-year career in Philadelphia—all in a Phillies uniform—those accolades would not have always been apparent by reading the newspaper, tuning into sports talk radio or listening to the Veteran Stadium crowds.
As Schmidt once put it in an interview, "Only in Philadelphia can you experience the thrill of victory one night, and the agony of reading about it the next day." And, early in his tenure he blurted out "I've just accepted my role as the guy the fans are going to take their frustrations out on."
For all the prolific statistics and majestic home runs, these two statements pretty much sum up how Schmidt perceived his existence in Philadelphia. And, although fans and the media recognize his greatness retrospectively, both would have to admit that he was often the target of their criticism over almost two decades.
The numbers and the hardware do not lie. Three MVP trophies, 12 All-Star appearances, six Silver sluggers, and 10 Gold Glove awards provide ample testimony. And, of course, let's not forget in 1980 World Series ring that "Schmitty" complements with the MVP trophy for his efforts.
The numbers, un-inflated by small ballparks and performance-enhancing drugs, were among the best of his era. Thirteen times he clubbed more than 30 home runs and nine times he exceeded 100 RBIs. Today, he ranks 14th all-time with 548 home runs and is among the top 75 in many different offensive career categories (cheaters included.)
All in all, his detractors interpreted his calm as being aloof and uncaring. They saw his fluid movement as nonchalance and possibly lack of hustle. They viewed his discipline to work deep into the count as un-aggressive or even fearful. His own teammates even referred to him as "Captain Cool", which certainly didn't help his public image.
After his abysmal rookie season when he hit below the Mendoza line, Schmidt had a breakout year in 1974 that somewhat set the bar for future seasons. Fans now had high expectations that were measured one at-bat at a time.
While he played, his critics tended to remember his strikeouts and believe that he never came through in the clutch. Looking back now, though, the memories are somewhat reversed.