Philadelphia Inquirer - July 6, 1980
Just imagine… if Mike Schmidt were only stupid
By Bill Lyon
Mike Schmidt ripped open the small bag and dumped the potato chips onto the paper plate, right next to the tuna salad, and then he studied the empty bag.
Admiringly. He envied that cellophane bag because of what it had in it. Nothing.
That's what Mike Schmidt wishes he had in his head each time he settles into the batter's box, pawing at the dirt like a dog excavating a bone. Nothing.
Question – What do you think about when you're going good with the bat?
Answer – "Nothing. And that's when you know you're going good. You don't have to think when you're going good."
Athletes have a lot of terms to describe this mystical, Zen-like phenomenon. They have their rhythm. Or they are "in the zone." The term Mike Schmidt chooses is "being in the flow." The flow. Like catching a jet stream and letting it carry you. You can't see jet streams either.
"You try to get in it and stay in it as long as you can," he said, lining up the chips.
"And nobody in the history of the game has been" – he paused to crunch a chip, for emphasis – "in the flow for a whole season."
Nobody has been in the flow for three-fourths of a season. Or two-thirds. Or even one-half. In the flow for half a season, let's see, that would be something like 81 homers and God knows how many RBIs....
"Too many variables," Schmidt said, waving another chip, dismissing that theory. "You're not plugging numbers into a computer. People say they want to be consistent. But what's consistent? Is one home run a game consistent? That would be 162 homers a year. Every other day? That'd be 81."
Sure, and if you hit only one every third day, that would average out to, uh, 54, and, in something like the last 25 years only, four players have hit more than 50 in a year.
No, what usually happens is that homer hitters collect them like bananas, in bunches. Eight in seven days, something like that.
Mike Schmidt nodded his head in agreement and poked a plastic fork into the tuna without much enthusiasm. He was eating mechanically now, not really tasting the food, because what he really hungers to talk about is hitting.
And that has been his problem, because he has been told, over and over, that when he does get into the flow, he talks himself out of it. He thinks too much. Paralysis from analysis.
"If he was dumb," Danny Ozark once said, "it'd be better. There have been a lot of great dumb ball players."
Mike Schmidt heard that and heard that until he wearied of it, was sickened by it. He says he still remembers what Davey Johnson told him one time, that "there is nothing worse than great ability and a complex mind."
Coaches are always preaching to players: Don't think, just react.
Henry Aaron once told a clinic on hitting: "I see the ball, I hit the ball." End of lesson.
"I've had two periods this season of five-six games when I felt uncomfortable as a hitter," Mike Schmidt said, pushing away the plate and reaching for the empty chip bag. "It's like golf; how bad are your bad shots? How good are you hitting when you're not going good?"
Michael Jack Schmidt, for almost the whole first half of this season, led the majors in homers, RBIs, runs scored, and yet, like the chip bag, he felt strangely empty, as though he had accomplished nothing.
"I don't feel like I've been doing that much," he said. "Last year, I never really started scalding the ball until July. It's really kind of scary, you know, how it can be so easy for a couple of weeks and then so tough for maybe a month.
"The funny thing about baseball is that it can literally change overnight. The human mind and body reinforces good habits, just like it does bad habits."
Mike Schmidt, they say, has been twice blessed. First, he was given that sculpted body, that fluid coordination. A natural athlete. Then, a big plus, he had a mind, too. Except the blessings can be curses. People look at the body and are stirred to great expectations, and, no matter what numbers he puts up, there will always be that nagging suspicion that there should be more. And the mind, analytical, calculating, for years they have preached to him that all that mind does is foul him up. He should turn it off, like you do your light switches at night.
"I think I have found one thing," he said, crumpling up the chip bag, "and that's that the key to hitting success is poise. Keep your poise, and your natural ability has a chance to flow, to shine."
It's not enough to keep an open mind. It has to be empty.
"Let's just say," Mike Schmidt grin-ned,"uncluttered."
Kaat shuts down Phillies, 6-1, on six-hitter
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS – He is still the same old Jim Kaat.
He still throws more pitches per minute than the batting-cage machines. He still throws strike after strike after strike. He still can hit you with everything from eephus balls to a not-too-shabby low, hard one. He can still do all that and win.
He has pitched in 743 games over 22 seasons. But the first 742 all had one thing in common. None of them were against the Phillies.
But last night, at age 41, Kaat made the Phillies his 267th big-league victim. He six-hit them, faced only 30 hitters in nine innings and got the whole thing over with in less time than the Borg-McEnroe Wimbledon tie-breaker. Meanwhile, those Cardinals bats blasted Randy Lerch, and it all added up to a 6-1 loss for the Phillies.
Even with the Cardinals ripping Lerch for seven hits, two walks, a wild pitch and five runs in five innings, Kaat could not be slowed from that 78 r.p.m. pace of his. Kaat buzzed through nine innings so quickly (1 hour, 39 minutes), this might have been the first night game in history to be completed before it was even dark yet.
"I guess we can really gear people up, except our own," said an admiring Dallas Green. "That old son of a gun is such a competitor, though, he had me rooting for him at the end."
Kaat (3-5) spent three-plus seasons with the Phillies, watching them get torpedoed by all sorts of junkballers. So he knew just what to do when he got out there.
He didn't walk anybody. He threw three double-play balls. He just let them overswing their way to defeat.
"I don't know if it helped me to know them so well or not," he said. "It was almost something of a distraction. I'd find myself thinking of the hitter as a person instead of just another hitter."
Even if Kaat never beats the Phillies again, he still got the satisfaction of stopping a team that hardly seemed to appreciate him even when it had him.
"Mentally, this has probably been a longer day for me than most," Kaat said. "Usually, I don't have the game on my mind until I get to the park. But for this one, I had it on my mind most of the day. I felt this way the first time I faced Minnesota, too."
Kaat thought he might have reached the end of the line in April. He was released by the Yankees and waited eight days before the Cardinals called.
"I wasn't pessimistic (about catching on with somebody) as far as my ability to pitch," he said. "But I do know the first things teams look at is age and statistics. And both those things were against me. But here they overlook that.
"They don't think about my age here. They just treat me like a ball player. And age is something they maybe held against me in Philadelphia."
Kaat had a 1.98 earned-run average for June, he beat the Pirates and he shut out the Mets for 10 innings. So he still is somebody you have to beware of.
"He throws better than a lot of people think," said Larry Bowa. "People think he's a junkballer. But his fastball still has some pop on it."
The Phillies got an unearned first-inning run off him, and that was it. Lonnie Smith singled, stole second, went to third on a Ted Simmons throwing error and scored on Pete Rose's sacrifice fly. After that, the Phillies got only two men to second and nobody to third.
Meanwhile, Lerch reverted to old habits. He gave up two hits, a single and two stolen bases to Bobby Bonds, who came In hitting .190 with 60 strikeouts. He also got hammered in the first inning again. In 17 starts, Lerch has been scored upon in the first in 10 of them.
Four pitches, a walk
He walked Bonds with his first four pitches. Garry Templeton ripped his next one to right-center for a double. After two more balls, Keith Hernandez made it 2-1 with a single to left.
George Hendrick's double and 63d RBI made it 3-1 before Lerch shut it off. But his first-inning line for the year is getting pretty ghastly: 17 games, 20 runs, 29 hits, 11 walks, five homers.
It stayed 3-1 until the fifth. Bonds started Lerch's problems there, too, with a leadoff single and a steal of second. Hernandez made it 4-1, hammering a triple to the track in right-center. Then Hendrick singled, and it was 5-1.
Lerch had pitched well in three of his previous four starts. But he can't seem to sustain anything. Since the 1979 All-Star break, Lerch has made 32 starts. Only once has he won two of them in a row (Sept. 6 and 12, both against the Mets). He hasn't beaten the Cardinals since Sept. 9, 1978, which was seven starts ago.
"It's discouraging," Green said. "We've talked about him establishing the fastball. But he insists he's going to be a breaking-ball pitcher.
Fastball comes first
"I'm not trying to take the breaking ball away from him. But what he doesn't understand is, if he doesn't establish the fastball first, when he misses with the breaking ball they know real well what's coming. If you establish the fastball first and come through with the breaking ball now and then, if you miss with it, it's not that big a deal, because they still don't know what's coming.
"Does that sound logical to anybody but me? But we've had a hard time convincing him of that. Look, I want the guy to be successful. If he's successful we're gonna walk away with this thing. But I don't know what to do to make him successful. We've tried everything we know."
Maybe if Lerch really wants to be successful, Green suggested, he would do well to study a guy named Jim Kaat.
NOTES: Ray Knight was named to replace Mike Schmidt on the All-Star team. But Schmidt is going anyway, willingly. In an era when players seem to try anything to get out of playing, Schmidt wanted to show that he wanted to play but was honestly hurt. That was one reason he will go. He also has a previous business commitment he has to meet.... Players still were talking about how hot it was during Friday's game. How hot was it? A newspaper photographer with a thermometer got a reading of 140 degrees on the field. It was so hot Rose went through four batting gloves. John Vukovich said it was the hottest day he had ever played on, and Vukovich played in Oklahoma City, which is not exactly the North Pole. Greg Luzinski changed shirts during the game, and said his second shirt still "must have weighed 30 pounds" when the game was over.... Steve Carlton needs four strikeouts today to pass Mickey Lolich and become the all-time left-handed strikeout leader in baseball history. Carlton will oppose Pete Vuckovich (7-0 lifetime as a starter against the Phillies).