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Mike Schmidt: First at Third


photo by Peter Bonds, 2008, CC 2.0

Mike Schmidt is arguably the greatest all-around third baseman in Major League history. The Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Famer combined power and fielding prowess to dominate the position for two decades in the seventies and eighties.


The multi-talented Schmidt won three National League MVPs, 10 Gold Glove awards, and led the NL in home runs eight times in his 18-year career. He was also named to 12 All-Star Games, and won six Silver Sluggers.


 

Schmidt was chosen by Philadelphia in the second round of the 1971 draft. He was an All-American shortstop at Ohio University before switching to third base in the Phillies system. The young prospect spent less than two years in the minors before making his Major League debut on September 12, 1972. He became a starter the next season, hitting .196 with 18 home runs in 367 at bats.


After having a year to get acquainted with Major League pitching, Schmidt had a breakout season in 1974, hitting .282 with a league-leading 36 home runs and .546 slugging percentage. The first-time All-Star also had 116 RBIs, 108 runs and showed surprising speed with 23 stolen bases.


Schmidt proved 1974 was no fluke, as he went on to lead the NL in home runs each of the next two seasons. From 1975-77, he averaged 38 home runs, 101 RBIs and 106 runs. In 1976, he also began a streak of nine straight Gold Gloves.


 

Schmidt’s presence at the plate and in the field helped transform the Phillies from a last-place team in his rookie year to a contender in the National League. From 1976-78, Philadelphia won three straight division titles, including back-to-back 101-win seasons in 1976-77.


After a down year at the plate in 1978, Schmidt had 45 home runs, 114 RBIs and 109 runs in 1979. Philadelphia missed the playoffs for the first time in four years, but the next season would be a historic year of firsts for both the Phillies and their star slugger.


In 1980, Schmidt won his first NL MVP and Silver Slugger awards, leading the NL with 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, 342 total bases, a .624 slugging and 1.004 OPS. He also won his fifth straight Gold Glove. Most importantly, the Phillies won their first pennant in 30 years, beating the Houston Astros in five games in the National League Championship Series.


The dream season reached its pinnacle on October 21, as the Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals 4-1 in Game 6 to win their first World Series championship. Schmidt continued his award-winning year by being named World Series MVP, hitting .381 with two home runs and seven RBIs in six games.


 

Schmidt repeated as NL MVP in 1981, hitting a career-high .316 and leading the league with 31 home runs, 91 RBIs, 78 runs, a .435 on-base percentage, .644 slugging, 1.080 OPS and 228 total bases in the strike-shortened season. Philadelphia lost in the divisional round of the expanded playoffs, but it wouldn’t be long before they were back on the big stage.


Two years later in 1983, the Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers three games to one in the NLCS to win their second pennant in four years. But they fell short of another world championship, as the Baltimore Orioles beat Philadelphia in five games in the World Series. The Orioles’ pitching staff held the Phillies to only nine runs in five games. Schmidt especially struggled, going only 1 for 20 in the series. It would be his last postseason appearance.


Schmidt would remain one of the game’s elite players, though. From 1984-87, he averaged 35 home runs and 113 RBIs while adding two more Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards to his trophy case. In 1986, he won his third NL MVP, leading the league with 37 home runs, 119 RBIs, a .547 slugging and .937 OPS.


After a subpar 1988 that included a late-season rotator cuff injury, the now 39-year-old slugger retired 42 games into the 1989 season. As a final act of appreciation for the most prolific third baseman of all-time, the fans voted Schmidt to his 12th career All-Star Game.


 

The final numbers are outstanding: 548 home runs, 1,595 RBIs, 1,506 runs, a .380 on-base, .527 slugging and .908 OPS. A constant on NL leaderboards throughout his career, Schmidt led the league in home runs eight times, slugging and OPS five times, RBIs and walks four times, and on-base three times. In the field, he led all NL third basemen in assists seven times and double plays six times.


Schmidt was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1995, receiving 96.5 percent of the vote. It was the fourth highest percentage in history at the time.

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