For all the home runs he hit, for all the Gold Gloves he grabbed, for all the awards he earned when he led the Phillies to the only World Series they ever won, somehow Mike Schmidt never seemed to do enough to satisfy the fans in Philadelphia.
So perhaps this is a fitting irony on what should be one of the greatest days in Schmidt’s life: There are 200 tour buses traveling from Philadelphia to Cooperstown to see the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies today, and most of the people on those buses say they’re coming to see someone else.
Sure, Schmidt will get cheers. After all, there’s no booing allowed in this peaceful shrine to baseball, a pleasant village of 2,300 that seems far removed from the problems that have spoiled the sport.
But the biggest ovation likely will go to another person entering the hall - former Phillies center fielder Richie Ashburn, a popular broadcaster for the team for more than 30 seasons.
In fact, Hall of Fame officials predict that this year’s attendance - admission is free, so no precise counts are available - may reach 20,000, which would make it the largest turnout ever. And many of those making the 4-hour trip from Philly say they want to be there when Ashburn, not Schmidt, is enshrined.
Also being inducted are Negro Leagues star Leon Day, who died six days after being elected in March, National League founder William Hulbert and turn-of-the-century pitcher Vic Willis.
Ashburn was honored last week at Veterans Stadium, drew lengthy applause and told the crowd that Philadelphia had been great for him and his family.
Schmidt, whose unemotional, cool demeanor on the field often made him appear aloof and arrogant to some, will have an appreciation night, too, at the ballpark where he played. That will come later this summer, while Phillies fans stew over the most recent remarks made about them by arguably the greatest all-around third baseman in history.
“It’s hard for me to have good things to say about a town that never did anything for me and made life miserable for me,” Schmidt was quoted by Philadelphia magazine this month.
It was not the first time Schmidt had said something severe about those who overlooked his 548 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves and MVP awards in the 1980 regular season and World Series, and instead focused on his 1,883 strikeouts, his 1-for-20 performance in the 1983 World Series and his detached style.
“I’ll tell you something about playing in Philadelphia,” he said in 1985, the year in which he once wore sunglasses and a wig on the field to defuse negative reaction to his critical comments about fans.
“Whatever I’ve got in my career now, I would have had a great (deal) more if I played my whole career in Los Angeles or Chicago or you name the town - somewhere where they were just grateful to have me around.”
There was this in 1986, shortly before his third N.L. MVP award, when asked how fans might view his home-run total: “They’ll probably say, ‘Damn, he hit that many? I was too busy booing him to notice.”’
Then there was this from 1989, the year when he abruptly retired in midseason a day after misplaying a ball he knew he used to handle easily: “I don’t know if there’s something in the air, or something about their upbringing, or if they have had too many hoagies, too much cream cheese or too much W.C. Fields.”
Exactly what Schmidt will say in his speech isn’t known. He has said he will twice mention Pete Rose, a player he credits with spurring him on to greatness.
Schmidt even plans to wear a lapel pin with No. 14 to salute Rose, who has been barred from the hall because of gambling.
“This is not a major campaign to get Pete in the hall or anything like that,” he said. “This is my chance to express the way I feel in front of a national audience and to bring Pete’s case in front of the nation - for a short time, anyway.”
Rose, by the way, planned to be in Cooperstown this weekend to sign autographs, but intended to leave by Saturday afternoon.
“I want to be a part of it, but I don’t want to take away Mike’s thunder,” Rose said. “I want the whole focus to be on Mike and Richie that day.”
Schmidt and Ashburn, a career .308 hitter, mark the first time two electees have come from the same team since Lou Brock and Enos Slaughter of the St. Louis Cardinals were enshrined in 1985.
“It will be extra special for me because I saw every game Michael Jack Schmidt played in his big-league career,” Ashburn said.
Willis was 249-205 with 50 shutouts, mainly for the Boston Beaneaters. Day was a pitcher, second baseman and outfielder, and appeared in seven Negro Leagues All-Star games. Hulbert helped rid baseball of rowdy behavior and other problems after the N.L. was founded in 1876.
A Paul Bunyan burger, a couple of Coors; will you be my Valentine if I will be yours? The Bard of Sherman Avenue
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