Philadelphia Inquirer - December 5, 1980

Soured

 

Writers tarnish a great year for Schmidt

 

By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor

 

In so many ways, Philadelphia is a great place for a professional athlete to play and to live. But all is not sweetness and light – not even when an athlete and his team reach the giddiest of heights, as Mike Schmidt and the Phillies did this year.

 

You would think Schmidt's most vivid memories of 1980 would all be pleasant. His team went all the way, and so did he – winding up as most valuable player in the National League and in the World Series, a super double if ever there was one.

 

"Probably nowhere else in the world could you get the reception we got here as world champions," Schmidt said yesterday at Veterans Stadium. "There isn't anywhere in the world where you can get a following like that, a sincere thankfulness, a gratitude for the last three weeks of the baseball season, for the fun the people had. Everywhere I go – everywhere – people tell me how much that did for them, being able to watch that and be a part of that."

 

But Utopia it's not. If the Philadelphia fans can be warmer, more concerned than any others, the Philadelphia press, Mike Schmidt has come to believe, can be colder, tougher, more critical.

 

"Nowhere else in the world," Schmidt said, "could you get the buildup of a bad reputation that we have as a team. 'The nasty Phillies.' We kid about that everywhere we go."

 

They kidded about it in Los Angeles recently, where they went to tape a week's worth of "Family Feud" quiz shows. " 'Don't expect us to cooperate with you,' we jaid. 'We'll tell you where we want to go, when we want to be there, how we want to get there, and don't try to tell us any different. We're the nasty Phillies.' The Kansas City Royals, they're everyone's team. Delightful guys. Deserving guys. They're very cooperative. They all talk to the press. They're funny. They're witty. They're more like the everyday people that watch baseball. But the Phillies, they aren't like that…."

 

Clearly, Mike Schmidt's great year has been something less than one joyful experience after another.

 

Not even two of his greatest days – the one on which he went to New York to accept the World Series MVP award and the one on which he won the National League MVP award – were without considerable unpleasantness.

 

"There's no way in hell either one of those days should have a negative spot on them," Schmidt said. "As cooperative as I was, as thankful as I was to be in that spot, as willing as I was to spread the credit around – and sincerely spread it around – I didn't see how there could be any negatives written at all. But there were.

 

On the day Schmidt won the World Series MVP award, he was upset by an exclusive interview in the Philadelphia Daily News, in which Bake McBride told Stan Hochman, "If anybpdy should get it (the award), it ought to be Bob Boone or Larry Bowa; They contributed more than anybody on the team."

 

On the day Schmidt got the National League MVP award, he was blasted by Daily News baseball writer Bill Conlin for refusing to give post-midnight interviews so that writers for afternoon papers could meet their deadlines.

 

In addition, there was the amphetamine story that surfaced in Trenton during the All-Star break and briefly flashed across the country as headline news. The Inquirer printed a story – considered by Schmidt to be an invasion of privacy – written by a reporter who visited the player's neighborhood and made inquiries about what it was like to live near a baseball superstar.

 

The relationship between the press and today's highly paid professional athlete is a complicated, often difficult one at best. It is Schmidt's feeling, and the feeling of many of his teammates, that the relationship in Philadelphia has become unnecessarily complicated and difficult.

 

"I think the writers that cover the Eagles probably as a whole want to see the Eagles succeed more than anything in the world," he said. "I'm not so sure that's true with the writers that cover the Phillies. I may be wrong, but my opinion is (that) not everyone is totally, 100 percent happy for the guys on the Phillies. I think in a lot of cases the script didn't finish like a lot of them would have liked to see it finish. I think in the end some writers were hurt that they had to put 'world champions' behind the Phillies' name. It would have been a much more Philadelphia-type story had we lost in the World Series, had we continued that ongoing saga of 'the team that can't win the big ones.'"

 

The "war" between the Philadelphia press and the Philadelphia Phillies has been well-documented throughout this and past seasons. But Mike Schmidt is an unlikely participant in that war. Never – not even when he was unfairly dragged into the highly publicized amphetamine story – did he refuse to talk to the press, as did some of his teammates. As a struggling, sub- 200 hitter in the early 70s or as the MVP in the National League in 1980, he has been accessible, cooperative and quotable. Perhaps that's why some of the things that marred his big year hurt him so deeply.

 

"Let me put it this way," Schmidt said. "First there was that amphetamine thing in the middle of the season. Then there was Hochman breaking that (McBride) story on the most important day of my career, telling me that my teammates didn't think I deserved it. Then, on the morning of the MVP award, one paper tells me to take the award and stick it. Besides that, there's the general feeling of having to answer question after question after question as to why our team doesn't deserve to be world champions because we're a bunch of babies.... All those things could make a guy – and has made several of the Phillies – very adamant about not talking to the press, and rightly so. It's caused some people not to want to live in this town, not to be available, and, ultimately, not to talk, not to have any obligation to the press whatsoever."

 

Above all, Schmidt was upset by the timing of the two MVP-related articles, which he felt displayed "a lack of compassion."

 

"It let me down in a sense because I thought I was good friends with those people," Schmidt said. "I thought I had some sort of a rapport with them.... Maybe Bill Conlin thought the same thing about me, and that's why he felt sort of hurt or felt I let him down by not granting him an interview so that he could make his deadline. But I'm not sure I would have stayed up till all hours of the morning (under any circumstances). We've got two kids in diapers. Donna (Schmidt's wife) goes to bed about 8:30. I go to bed about 9 most nights...."

 

It is Schmidt's feeling that only in Philadelphia, with its enormous sports interest and highly competitive press coverage, would so many negative and controversial stories be written about a world championship team and its most valuable player. Some members of the Yankees or Red Sox might dispute that.

 

But the fact remains that the long-running war between the Phillies and the Philadelphia press is not the one-way street many sportswriters would like to believe. If the writers covering the Phillies had legitimate gripes last season – and they surely did – then some of Schmidt's gripes are legitimate, too.

 

"I've thought about refusing to talk (to the press) several times," he said. "I just think joining the silent fraternity at this stage of my career would be more trouble than it's worth for me. I'd feel uncomfortable. Portions of my career, I feel, should be made public. I feel I can be a good example to a lot of young kids."

 

 

This is one Phillie who feels he has been wronged by the writers, yet has no plans to break off relations with them. Mike Schmidt learned to live with this city's fans during the bad years; now he is learning to live with this city's sportswriters during the good ones.