On July 20, Albert Pujols clubbed three home runs in a double header in Anaheim, giving the slugger 549 HR for his career. With his performance, Pujols passed Michael Jack Schmidt (548 HR) for 15th place on the all-time HR list. In recognizing the achievement of Pujols, we also stop to celebrate the brilliant career of Schmidt, a lifelong Phillie who many consider the best third baseman in baseball history. This week’s MLB flashback takes us back to the early 1980s when Pete Rose joined the Phillies and Schmidt soared to unprecedented heights at the hot corner.
By the time Rose arrived in Philly, the club had gone 96 years since the birth of the franchise (in 1883) without winning a World Series championship. The man known as Charlie Hustle provided an instant injection of life into the top of the lineup with Rose leading the National League with a .418 on-base percentage in 1979.
The following year, after Rose led the league with 42 doubles and Schmidt won the NL MVP, Philly took home the organization’s first World Series title. Schmidt won the World Series MVP by hitting .381 with 2 HR and 7 RBI but told told the Sporting News later that the spark came from the top of the lineup. “Rose made the difference” on that championship team, Schmidt said.
The combination of Rose and Schmidt was nearly unstoppable from 1979 to 1983, with the former setting the table and the latter powering him across the plate. But Rose’s contribution could not be quantified in statistics alone. In a moving Op-ed tribute to Rose in 2013, Schmidt spoke of the things that do not end up in the box score, musing how “never will there be a player who can set the tone of a series simply by diving into a base” and how Rose would attack the basepaths “with a vengeance, inciting the opposition and igniting [his team].”
After Rose’s arrival in Philadelphia, Schmidt realized his full potential and became the best player in the National League. The all-time hit king was happy to take credit for the transformation.
“Mike was the best player in the league three or four days a week when I got [to the Phillies in 1979],” Rose told The Sporting News when Schmidt entered the Hall of Fame. “By the time I left, he had learned to be the best seven days a week.”
The numbers back up Rose’s claims. Schmidt followed his 1980 MVP campaign (48 HR, 121 RBI, 1.004 OPS) with another MVP trophy in the strike-shortened 1981 season (31 HR, 91 RBI, 1.080 OPS in 102 games). Schmidt’s utter dominance of National League pitching continued through the 1984 season. (He won nine straight Gold Gloves from 1976 through 1984.)
As a player who had a contentious relationship with Philadelphia fans and local media, Schmidt also benefitted from Rose’s sense of humor and hunger for the spotlight. When reporters wanted quotes from the Phils after a win or loss, Rose would be there to entertain all and keep the heat off the third baseman who admitted he took boos and invasions of privacy to heart. Charlie Hustle was a natural star in the world of Philadelphia sports, and he was happy to explain the formula to The Sporting News.
“It’s not hard to become a fan favorite in Philly,” Rose said. “Play hard, get dirty. Cuss and spit and never let them see you loafing. One more thing: Never lose a game.”
Schmidt’s take was much more cerebral and much less understandable to the average Phillies fan. “If effort equated with dirt, my uniform would be as black as a coal mine in night time,” Schmidt said.
Sometimes, it takes a great teammate to help a star’s talents blossom fully. Rose and Schmidt brought out the best in each other those five years in Philadelphia, and for decades their 1980 club stood as the city’s only World Series winner in more than a century of baseball. This video might sum up the 1980 series and the Rose effect best:
Here’s looking at your 1980 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies and the great Michael Jack Schmidt, now in 16th place on the MLB home run list.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.