Today, we celebrate the birth of World Series Champion/MVP, MLB All-Star, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, All-Time Team Member, Four Times in One Game Home Run-Hitter, and Chuckling Truck-Smasher, Michael Jack Schmidt.
When I played Little League, the closest thing we had to scouts in the stands was that vocal, judgmental guy who sat as close to the bench as the coaches let him and it turns out wasn’t even anyone’s dad. He was just an unbiased observer who didn’t have the disposable income to attend the professional games of the local unaffiliated Single-A club, where shouting things like “Yo HIT THE DAMN CUT-OFF,” was far less noticeable.
When Mike Schmidt played Little League, the closest thing he had to scouts in the stands was a scout in the stands named Tony Lucadello. Years later, in 1971, after the Phillies watched Schmidt take the Ohio University Bobcats to the College World Series and drafted him in the second round, Lucadello was there to nod sagely in the background as Michael Jack Schmidt’s signature touched Philadelphia Phillies stationary.
And less than a week after that, he hit the game-winning home run in an exhibition game between the Phils and the Reading Phillies.
So it certainly seems like, in retroactive summation, that Mike Schmidt’s life was one explosive statement after another. Of course, there weren’t always pretty times–the guy, by his own admittance, had “two bad knees,” any struggling at the plate early on in his Major League career was met with regrettable booing, and his tragic retirement speech was abbreviated by a deluge of tears.
But Mike Schmidt’s life was one that we can all look at and feel far, far worse about our own in comparison. Nobody makes you feel more like a normal person than a guy who does the extraordinary so easily, and the power-hitting, slick-fielding, team-carrying Schmidt is enough to crush your spirits as a person while simultaneously raising them as a Phillies fan.
Today, he is 63, but there are several numbers that he will be remembered for far longer than any age. The stoic number “20″ that will never be worn by another Phillie again; the iconic “500″ that will forever link Schmidt with Harry Kalas; the “96.5%” vote that got him inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995, first ballot.
Often times, we pick our stars apart; we work hard to find out what’s wrong with them. We love Ryan, and Chase, and Jimmy, but we also know why they drive us nuts–Ryan can’t hit lefties, Chase just hates us, and Jimmy’s a diva. With the expansion of media commentary, there’s more places than ever to find out why you shouldn’t like a guy.
But as time goes on, legends retire, and slip into the fog of their post-baseball years, all we wind up remembering are the moments that set them apart; the records they broke, the games they saved, and the careers they inspired. Mike Schmidt has more Phillies moments in his queue than anybody, and at 63 years old, this far removed from his 17 years in the game, it’s refreshing to look at one of our stars and have nothing to recall but his legend.
I never saw Schmidt play, but I hope some day we can look upon the icons from my era of Phillies baseball with the same glorious, well-deserved homerism.
Because I’m certainly not going to receive any. I couldn’t even hit the damn cutoff.