We continue our countdown of the 25 Best Hitters of the Free Agent Era. The rest of the posts can be found here.
One of the games most beloved players in the 70s and 80s, Mike Schmidt was a dominant force all over the diamond. In addition to being known for his power bat, he won the gold glove at third base ten times. Should we be talking about the best all-around players, “Schmitty” probably gets a bump in value.
But we’re focused on his hitting, and a powerful hitter he was.
Drafted in 1971, he was already in the Major Leagues by September of 1972. The 1973 season, which was considered his rookie season, was not very kind to Schmidt. He batted just .196 in 367 at-bats. However, we got to see a glimpse of things to come as he did homer 18 times that year. The following season, it all came together and he hit a league-leading 36 homers while batting .282 with a slugging of .546.
His pace was relentless, depositing a ball in the seats 6.56% of his plate appearances. After 18 seasons in the bigs, all with Philadelphia, the final tallies were impressive. He topped 30 homers 13 times, including totals of 45 in 1979 and 48 in 1980. He led the league in long balls eight times. When Mike Schmidt finally hung up his spikes, he’d mashed 548 homers, good for 16th in history.
If you’re a fan of sabermetrics, Schmidt makes a strong case for a higher listing. He finished with a wRC+ of 147. Steals plays a part of wRC+, and while he did steal 174 bases in his career, Mike’s prime contributor to such a gaudy numbers was his power.
He got on base quite a bit as well, posting a .380 on-base. This helps put some aloe on a (relatively) low .267 average. Remember, that .267 compares to all of the other best hitters of our era. In fact, Schmidt has the lowest average of all 25, which is why his OBP is so important to ranking him. So if a guy bats .267 but has a .380 OBP, what must’ve occurred?
Clearly, Mike Schmidt put fear in the minds of pitchers, walking 15.0% of his plate appearances. That’s good for fifth among my top 25, and of the players we’ve listed so far only Rickey Henderson tops him. I bet you can guess one of the other three we’ve yet to list. Any guesses at the other two?
Schmidt was hampered by a high strikeout percentage, perhaps a hint of the times we find ourselves in now. Along with walking in 15% of his PA, he struck out in 18.7% of them. It seems he had one thing in mind when he walked to the plate: put a baseball in orbit. Pitchers knew it, and either pitched around him, or used it against him.
Mike Schmidt was one of the best all around players of our generation. Aside from the home runs and the gold gloves and the mighty swing, he had a flair for the dramatic as well. In a wild game in 1976 versus the Cubs at Wrigley, he homered in four straight at-bats to help the Phillies erase a 12-1 deficit and win 18-16 in ten innings. He won the National League MVP award in 1980, ’81, and ’86. He also has one other MVP award to boast — the 1980 World Series MVP. The Phillies triumphed over the Royals. Schmidt batted .381 with two homers and seven RBI in the six games.
Mike Schmidt was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1995. Here is Schmitty in the classic Phillies blue uni launching home run number 500.