Camden Courier-Post - March 14, 1980

.300 average not vital to Schmidt


By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post


CLEARWATER, Fla. – Mike Schmidt is one of the consummate power hitters in the game of baseball. That fact has been indisputable for some time now.


In virtually every category, Schmidt fits , nicely into the definition of what a power hitter should be. For instance, over the last six years – since he began playing regularly for the Phillies – Schmidt leads the major leagues in home runs. Last year he finished second to Chicago strongman Dave Kingman in home runs (48-45) and slugging percentage (.613-.564). In three of the last four seasons Schmidt has driven in more than 100 runs, scored more than 100 runs, and walked more than 100 times.


On occasion, his display of power evokes awe from even his teammates. There was the time he hit a line drive off one of the speakers suspended from the Astrodome roof. There was the time last year when he homered seven times in five games. And, there was that memorable game in Chicago in 1976 when he hit four consecutive home runs for the first time in his career.


Yes, Mike Schmidt is everything a power hitter should be – long oh the ball, short on the average. The latter has traditionally been a matter of some concern to Schmidt, who has never been entirely convinced that hitting .300 is not part of the qualifications for a power hitter.


The shortcoming – if you can call not hitting .300 a shortcoming – has been with Schmidt throughout his career, tugging insistently at his achievements. Perhaps he could be satisfied with his .255 lifetime, average if it were not for the fact that he knows he has the potential to hit .300.


"If somebody paid me not to hit home runs, I'd hit .300," he said. "If someone said, I don't care if you ever hit another home run, I'd choke up on the bat and hit .300."


It seems whenever Phillies fans talk about Schmidt, a "but" is automatically attached to his name. "Sure," they say, "Mike Schmidt can hit the long ball, but he strikes out too much...” Or, "Sure, Mike Schmidt can drive in runs, but he's not consistent. He's a streak hitter…”


"Everybody in baseball is somewhere between a hot and cold streak," says Schmidt, who does, indeed, run hot and cold during the course of a season. "Even Pete Rose goes 1-for-20 once in awhile.


"I just never had a natural baseball swing that lends itself to consistent line drives, day in, day out. I don't have a high average swing."


Not hitting .300 has gradually lost some of its significance with Schmidt. Earlier in his was like an unfinished song. He had the melody and lyrics down – all he needed was to arrange it around a .300 average. But now it seems he has come to accept the idea that high average is not always synonymous with high productivity.


"There's no question in my mind," he says, "that year by year I have less of a desire to be a .350 hitter. It's within the realm of my ability, but I'll never start off a year by saying I want to hit .350.


"Sometimes I give up on a pitch and try to do too much, with it. I try to power the ball instead of flaring it to right field. I'll hit .270, .280, .290 if I have a lucky year. But last year I was on base as much as (National League batting champion) Keith Hernandez and I hit .253. So what's the difference?"


An interesting, if not entirely valid, point. The fact is the Cardinals' Hernandez batted .344 by developing into the day-in, day-out line drive hitter Schmidt could be if he were to shorten his swing and learn to go to all fields. It might be even more interesting if it were completely accurate. Hernandez, however, reached base through a hit or walk 290 times, Schmidt 257.


Besides, the Phillies don't pay Schmidt to reach base. They pay him to drive home baserunners. And Schmidt hit .228 with men on base last season, a much more significant measure of a power hitter's productivity than overall average.


Indeed, it is not at all important for Mike Schmidt to hit .300. But it is very important to the Phillies that Schmidt hit with men on base.


As one of the consummate power hitters in baseball, Schmidt does not have to hit line drives day in, day out. But he does have to produce runs if the Phillies are to be successful as a team.


PHIL UPS – Rain washed out Phillies' intra-squad game yesterday, which was scheduled to be played at Jack Russell Stadium... Phils were to open their Grapefruit League exhibition schedule this afternoon at Jack Russell against the Detroit Tigers.... Phils have until midnight tomorrow – the inter-league trading deadline – to finish deal with Baltimore for utility infielder Billy Smith.

Big Newk saves ‘em for the Dodgers now


By Dick Young


St. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When Big Newk pitched, be was a starter, one of the best. Now, he's a saver, one of the most dedicated. "We saved that kid's life," said Don Newcombe. "Not just his career, his life."


He had been asked about Bob Welch who, at age 23, stood before his Dodger teammates the other day and proclaimed himself an alcoholic under treatment.


The baseball world was shocked. Don Newcombe wasn't, nor was his associate, Leslie Gray. Together, the two men tour baseball's camps now, in behalf of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, They have known about Bob Welsh for some time. They know of others.


"You can't keep something like that secret," said Don Newcombe, a non-drinking alcoholic. "There are signs. We tracked him for quite a while."


"Tracked him. You mean followed him around?"


"No, we don't do that. We heard stories about him. From roommates, from teammates. It all fits a pattern."


"What are the signs you mentioned?"'


"A guy gets so drunk he has to be helped back to the hotel. His roommate has to put him to bed after he passes out with clothes on, has to clean up the vomit. That's no fun after a while.”


"You said something about saving his life. What did you mean by that?"


"We can't go into detail on that," said Don Newcombe, who talks in we, not I. “We promise confidentiality about a lot of things. But, believe it, it was farther gone than just performance."


"How many such cases would you say there are in the big leagues?"


"Baseball is like any other segment of society, where it's 4 to 8 percent. Because of the lifestyle, it probably would be even higher, maybe 10 or 12 percent," said Leslie Gray. "Some guys go right from the workout to have a bunch of beers. They run and run, and then they go out and drink it right back on. Why bother? Why run?''


The Dodgers have the only alcoholic program in organized baseball. "I report directly to Peter O'Malley," said Don Newcombe. "He has me working at all levels in their organization."


The Dodgers, pioneers though they are in this respect, are not perfect. There is another player who needs treatment. Right now is the time, according to Leslie Gray. But the Dodgers want to keep him in training camp. Five weeks of instruction in the clinic right now would save more time later," said Leslie Gray.


Don Newcombe drank as a player, sometimes heavily, but never went to the ballpark drunk, as do some men. "It became a problem after I was out of baseball," he says. "I owned that bar in New Jersey, and I was buying every- , body drinks, and drinking with them."


The bar went bankrupt His family broke up. He moved to California, remarried, took the cure. Now he's doing the big job for the Dodgers again.


"There has been talk about the heckling Bob Welch will take at the ballpark," said Newk, "now that he went public with this. I discussed that with him. He can handle it. Hell, he won't take anything worse than I heard when I came into baseball."


Newk meant the racial insults. He was the first black pitching star in the bigs. He remembers one particular day in Philadelphia, where the beach-riding was the vilest


"They had a little coach named McDonald who pitched batting practice. He would get on me something terrible, with that n------ stuff. Jackie was playing third, and he yelled over to the mound, 'You hear him, Newk?'


"’I hear him,' I said.


'"Well, what you gonna do about it?' Jackie said, 'Deck their best man!'


'"You better be ready to fight,' I said, and he said, Then we'll fight' ?


‘Del Ennis came up, and I decked him. I thought he was coming out to fight, and I was ready, but instead be walked over to the Philly dugout and said something to McDonald, then came back into the batter's box. Years later, Ennis and I wound up with Cincinnati, and I asked him what he had said that day.


He said he told McDonald that if he didn't shut up, "I'll pull your tongue out of your head. You don't have to bat against him!"