"I just wish I had enjoyed the game and the fans more during my playing time," is a quote from Mike Schmidt that caught my attention. The Greatest 3rd Baseman of All Time didn't have enough fun? He played baseball in Philadelphia in the late 60s, 70s & 80s. Woodstock, Disco, Rocky, Pete Rose, The Vet, 10 Gold Gloves, 548 Home Runs, 2 World Series' and you didn't enjoy yourself? He helped the Most Losing Franchise in Sports History capture their first World Series Title and yet Michael Jack didn't live it up.
Schmidt is a revered figure in Philadelphia Sports, but this was not always the case during his playing career. Mike struggled his first couple years in the big leagues. Aside from a brilliant second season where he hit .282 with 36 HRs, 116 RBIs and 106 walks, Schmidt had to bust his ass to stay above .250. Even as his numbers improved and the Phillies became a perennial contender, Schmidt never endured himself to the fans. He made a few less than flattering comments about Philly fans to reporters and before Mike knew it, he was being booed at many home games. Baseball wasn't a game anymore for Schmidt, it was a job.
Mike was a notorious work horse. He spent so much time in the cage working on hitting. Schmidt wasn't just a baseball player, he was a professional baseball
player. Baseball was his life. From an early age, Mike focused on baseball like a lawyer focuses on evidence. It was that laser focus & fervent desire to be a great ball player that drove Schmidt. The times and the cultural happenings didn't matter to him. His swing, tomorrow's opponent and the Phillies record were the only pertinent issues in his life, aside from family. Nothing else mattered.
Between Schmidt's drive to succeed & his cold exterior toward Philadelphia, the greatest player to ever suit up in a Phillies uniform was no more than a pariah. Then one day in 1985 Mike decided to have a little fun. People who witnessed it described him as The Jackson 5 mixed with Annie. Schmidt took the field in a big, curly red-haired wig and the fans & media loved it. It was an irreverent stunt and a small sign of humanity in the otherwise stoic, uber-serious Mike Schmidt.
Seems pretty ridiculous doesn't it. That a guy could be so caught up in his own existence, he'd almost forgotten to stop and smell the roses. And that a Media
and Fan base could be so unappreciative, they almost didn't realize or care how great Mike was. But once Mike let go of the hyper-rigid exterior, people began to appreciate him for what he really was; A Hall of Fame Baseball Player. Lesson learned. Michael Jack may have been late to the party, but better late than never. He ended his career a fan favorite & a first-ballot HOFer.