Philadelphia Daily News - August 15, 1980
Schmidt Loves N.Y.
By Bill Conlin
NEW YORK – It is official now. Michael Jack Schmidt, the Ted Kennedy of home run hitters, is back in the pennant race.
Schmidt always hits in Wrigley Field, which is why card-carrying members of the MJS Party were asked to postpone their demonstration until results were in from the Flushing Meadow precincts.
Candidate Schmidt picked up the Phillies, a team which, like the Democrats, has been in steady decline since 1977, and carried them to an 8-1 victory over the born-again Mets. He lashed four hits in five at-bats, including his 31st homer, drove in four runs and played the lumpy Shea infield the way an Electrolux plays a shag rug.
When the Phillies reeled westward from their Chappaquiddick on the banks of the Monongahela people were asking who that stranger was at third base. The one who had managed just 12 hits in his previous 19 games, who was playing his position like a man asked to stand in a mine field during an artillery barrage.
SCHMIDT'S LATEST STREAK in a career of more streaking than a '60s college campus has carried him to a different kind of 12-for-19. This time he has 12 hits in his last 19 at-bats. including four homers, two of them to right '. field. When Schmidt starts lobbing them to right and. right-center pitchers have about as much chance as Ronald Reagan in East Harlem.
"When he's going to right field at least he's thinking about it, protecting the outside of the plate," Dallas Green said after his ballclub put together another one-game winning streak to keep alive the titillating concept that they are capable of rising, phoenix-like; from the ashes of Three Rivers Stadium.
Further testimony to that concept was offered by Arnulfo Espinosa, who scattered five hits in the strongest effort of his solid comeback from shoulder miseries? Like Steve Carlton and Dick Ruthven and Bob Walk, Nino works every fifth day. But for the Phillies to mount any semblance of a consistent offense, Schmidt must do it almost every day.
MJS can discourse on the science of hitting – his hitting – for hours without drawing a deep breath. He can talk about stride, hands, patience, the ebb and flow of success inherent to all power hitters until you're Vida Blue in the face. It is all valid, of course, much more intellectual than the Stan Musial school ("I just waited for a good pitch to hit and swung the bat," Musial said).
There is something else you should know about Schmidt. He is a thoroughbred race horse, sensitive despite his facade of "cool," and prone to pulls, strains and other small, nagging injuries.
LET THE RECORD show that Candidate Schmidt has rarely been put into deep slumps by pitchers. It is fashionable to say he thinks his way into slumps. But all his daylight to darkness swings have come on the heels of injuries – the Bruce Kison rumble in ‘76 interrupted an awesome tear. He limped through ‘78 with a variety of hurts and hit just 21 homers. He was on a 50-plus homer pace this year when the hamstring he seems to injure each year forced him to miss 12 games.
Despite his imposing physique. Schmidt is not a gorilla of a man. But the ample power he has when coupled with his coordination, timing and sheer athleticism produces a power stroke unmatched in baseball today when it is in fine tune. Dave Kingman hits a ball nine miles, but it might take nine games for him to put a decent swing together. George Foster's arms belong on a man 6-8 and 250. Dick Allen was blacksmith strong. Henry Aaron's wrists belong in the medical Hall of Fame.
For all his self-analysis. Schmidt refuses to include injuries on the list of things which lead to 0-for-30s and weeks without homers. That he has missed 12 games, suffered through a drought of almost six weeks, and still has 31 homers and 83 RBI is testimony to the sheer talent of the man.
"My mistake tonight was probably trying to be too fine with the hitters ahead of Schmidt instead of pitching them normally and making tough pitches to him." said losing pitcher Pat Zachry. "I put too many runners on base in front of him and had to throw him too many pitches he could handle."
Espinosa legged out a bunt single with one out in the third. Lonnie Smith walked and Pete Rose reached first on interference by catcher Alex Trevino. Schmidt ripped a single to left, driving in two runs and snapping a scoreless tie. He drove in a seventh-inning run with a savage double off the glove of Elliott Maddox at third and led off the ninth with a homer down the right-field line.
"MY KEY RIGHT now." Schmidt said. launching into a technical dissertation, "is hitting the ball before I get two strikes on me. I've been in a rut where I'll get a pitch to hit and foul it off. Then the pitcher will make a good pitch and it's 2-0 and I'm on defense. First at bat tonight it was 2-0, but I worked hard to get the pitch I hit by taking a couple of good pitches to hack at – balls, but hittable pitches."
When Schmidt is healthy and off on one of his tears, all the pitches look hittable. Balls he was waving at on the outside corner are suddenly rattling around in the alley or descending into a distant row of seats.
Teddy Kennedy did nothing but swing and miss most of the political season. Then he came to Madison Square Garden and hit a tape measure home run.
"Maybe there's some sense in the injury thing," Schmidt said. "My best season start to finish was ‘74. I didn’t have an injury that year. Maybe I’ll be able to get built up enough during the off-season one of these years to do it again."
He always hits in Wrigley Field, located in a ward the late Mayor Daley used to win 5-1. And he will have one more shot to win big in Pittsburgh.
Hopefully, the Phillies will be more alive in September than Teddy Kennedy's bid for the White House.
PHILUPS: New York Post tried to create a crusade for the five-game series. A story in yesterday's editions dredged up a Dallas Green quote from June. "Score two runs and you've gotta beat the Mets," was the sum of it. "That was a remark said facetiously that in my opinion was blown out of proportion." Dallas said. "That was two months ago. We have respect for the Mets as we do for every team in the National League"... Larry Christenson will make another debut tonight and Craig Swan will come off the Mets' disabled list to pitch tomorrow.
7 Winners In Payoff
There were seven winners last night in the Daily News Home Run Payoff. In the eighth inning of the Phillies-Mets game, Debbie Vita of Philadelphia won $60, plus tickets on Mike Schmidt's two-run single. Bill Gallagher of Philadelphia won $10 and tickets on a single by pitcher Nino Espinosa.
Winners of tickets were, Billy Johnson of Harrisburg, Betty Brown, William Y. Weisel, Charles Cofield, and Iro Wolins, all of Philadelphia.
So far the Daily News has paid out $15,130.