Mike Schmidt: Hall of Fame 3B Discusses Reggie Jackson, Phillies Woes and More
When discussing the greatest third basemen in baseball history, one is behooved to start with former Philadelphia Phillies great Mike Schmidt. His 548 career home runs rank 15th on the all-time list. He won 10 Glove Gloves and three National League MVP awards. He made 12 All-Star appearances.
And, of course, he led the Phillies to a World Series championship in 1980.
Given his resume, Schmidt is a no-brainer choice for the third base spot on the National League squad for the next Pepsi Max Field of Dreams Game. Along with former Baltimore Orioles great and fellow Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., Schmidt announced the lineups for the two squads on Tuesday at MLB FanFest in Kansas City as part of the All-Star festivities. Fans can now vote for one of two fans to determine where the game will be played next season.
Schmidt was able to step aside for a few minutes to share a few words over the phone about a variety of different Major League Baseball topics. We talked about Reggie Jackson's latest remarks to Sports Illustrated about Hall of Fame members who may be undeserving, the state of the Philadelphia Phillies and more.
As he is wont to do, Schmidt gave honest, levelheaded answers across the board. Begin the slideshow whenever you're ready for them.
On Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson casually told Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated recently that he's not 100 percent certain that every former player who's in the Hall of Fame truly deserves to be there. Among the players he singled out were Kirby Puckett, Gary Carter and Jim Rice.
He must not have figured that people would get up in arms over these remarks, but that's exactly what's happened.
Schmidt counts Jackson as a friend, but he thinks the former Oakland A's and New York Yankees great went over the line a little by being so open with those views.
"I feel sorry for Reggie going public with those opinions," said Schmidt, laughing.
He then added: "Reggie’s entitled to his opinions. He’s entitled to do with them what he wants. I would guess that he probably wishes that he would have edited his thinking or kept those opinions to himself. Out of the public domain, if you will."
Though Jackson may have gone a little too far with his comments, Schmidt realizes that these things can happen when Mr. October ventures to speak.
"Reggie being Reggie," he said.
And besides, Schmidt pointed out that it's not exactly difficult for a given Hall of Fame member to realize he's in good company.
On the Hall of Fame
The Baseball Hall of Fame's official website claims that there are currently 297 elected members enshrined in Cooperstown.
Jackson listed six players that he's not sure belongs, which is roughly two percent of the Hall of Fame's population. That's as good a sign as any that the problem Jackson is talking about is a very small one. If it even exists, of course.
Schmidt knows this as well as anyone, and he said it doesn't take much for Hall of Famers like him and Jackson to be humbled.
"When you talk about fellow Hall of Famers, all you have to do is look to your left in the Hall of Fame and you’ll see somebody who deserves it more than you," Schmidt said. "No matter who you are. If you’re going to rank whether someone deserves or doesn’t deserve Hall of Fame election, just look to your left and you’ll see a guy who deserves it more than you do."
Jackson said in his comments to Sports Illustrated that he was planning on sharing his views on undeserving members at the next members-only dinner. Schmidt said that would be "fine," but he also pointed out that Jackson would be wasting his breath.
"He needs to bring it up with the voters, not with the members," he said with a few laughs.
I asked Schmidt if he had any notions on how the voters should approach alleged PED users such as Roger Clemens, and he said he's going to leave that task to the voters.
"I wish all of those guys the best, but that’s all I can say," he said. "Their fate as Hall of Famers is not in my hands. They’re in the Hall of Fame voters' hands."
On the Philadelphia Phillies
Meanwhile, in Major League Baseball, the team that Schmidt spent all 18 years of his big league career with is having a rough season. The Phillies entered the All-Star break with a record of 37-50, and they stand 14 games out of first place in the NL East.
Can the Phillies rebound and make it back to the postseason this year? Schmidt thinks so.
...But he realizes it won't be easy.
"Everything has got to go right for a long time. I would guess there’s somewhere in the vicinity of 80 games left or something like that [the Phillies have 75 games left]," Schmidt said. "If they have 80 games left, they’re going to have to win 60 of them or close to that, anyway. Three out of four."
Schmidt thinks good health, obviously, is paramount to the Phillies' chances of success in the second half. In addition, he says there's "no question" they need bullpen help.
More importantly, Schmidt just thinks the Phillies need to play with a sense of urgency.
"I guess what it takes is just looking at each game, each little nine-inning game, as the end of the world," said Schmidt. "You can put blinders on and not think about the past and not think about tomorrow. Only think about winning today as if it’s the last game of the World Series. 'If we win today, we’re the World Champions,' almost has to be your mentality."
"And then you do the same thing again tomorrow," he said.
He also noted that this approach is tricky for a team in last place like the Phillies.
On the Mentality of a Struggling Team
The Phillies aren't used to being in last place. They've won five straight NL East titles, winning the World Series in 2008 and going back to the World Series in 2009. This season is a return to the bad old days.
As Schmidt sees it, a tough first half like the one the Phillies just had has the power to change the mentality of a team that is so used to winning. The trick is to regain the mentality of a first-place team, but that's easier said than done.
"The difference is that you can probably win that many games if you’re in first place and everyone else in the division is having kind of an off year," Schmidt said. "If the other teams that you’re playing are struggling, you can just continue the roll that you’re on and having momentum and just pounding everybody because everybody’s healthy and everybody’s in the middle of a good year."
He continued, saying, "But when you’re 14 games under .500, you have to figure out a way to turn it around and get out of the win one, lose one, win one, lose one mentality and into a 'win three out of every four' mentality."
Schmidt thinks there's still hope for the Phillies, but he made a point of repeating that it's going to be pretty hard.
On the Rise of Pitching in MLB
Pitching is on the rise in Major League Baseball. We saw five no-hitters thrown in the first half, including two perfect games and a combined no-hitter by the Seattle Mariners. Several other pitchers threw one-hitters.
Per ESPN.com, the league's ERA this season is 4.00. Its batting average against is .254. In 2009, the league's ERA was 4.31. Its batting average against was .262.
Schmidt sees a number of reasons for the declining offensive numbers, starting with the pitchers themselves.
"The pitchers are bigger. They’re stronger. They’re more specialized," he said. "It’s not a slap in the face anymore to be the sixth-inning guy or the seventh-inning guy. They got guys pitching out of those roles who are making six or seven million dollars a year."
In addition to the pitchers being more talented, Schmidt notes that pitching coaches are smarter now than ever before.
"Pitching coaches have now become pitching gurus," he said. "They’ve taken the time with pitching grips and pitching theory more so than they were in the past. Big, hard throwers now have nasty changeups to go along with the nasty sliders, forkballs and split-fingers. The pitching theory nowadays is to throw anything at any time. It’s not necessarily challenge every hitter when you get a 3-1 count or a 2-0 count."
In all, Schmidt says there's a "pitching cycle" going on right now. He's not sure what will turn it around.
The fact that teams are changing the way they play defense isn't helping hitters.
On Defensive Alignments
One thing that's been credited as being a significant part of the decline of hitters and the rise of pitchers is the way teams are changing their approach to defense. Whereas there used to be few teams that used infield shifts, now there are few teams that don't use infield shifts.
Schmidt acknowledged that it's something new that hitters aren't used to dealing with. It's certainly something that didn't take place back in his day.
"Years ago, they put a big shift on Willie Stargell. But no defensive coordinator, manager or pitching coach back in the day would have the guts to move the entire team into right field," he said. "There are managers now that have no fear of doing that. You know, [the idea is to] make the guy try to hit the ball to left field."
One way you can tell that these shifts are making a difference is by looking up defensive runs saved numbers on FanGraphs. For example, the Tampa Bay Rays may rank second to last in MLB in fielding percentage, but they rank fourth in the league in defensive runs saved.
That's the work of Joe Maddon's shifts.
Since these shifts seem to be working, Schmidt thinks teams could get even more carried away.
"Don’t be surprised if we see it get more profound as we go forward," he said.
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