On Your Marc: 2/14

Switch hitter

Dayton’s Mike Schmidt jumps from football to baseball in a career-defining move

By Marc Katz

His given name is Michael Jack Schmidt, but we used to write about him so much in the old Dayton Daily News, we joked his middle name was really Mike.

That’s because every time we referred to him, he was Dayton’s Mike Schmidt, even though he played for the Philadelphia Phillies.

As you may know, DMS was perhaps the greatest third baseman of all time, at least in our discussion of him.

He may be a couple generations past us, but he now lives in Florida and works, starting this week, as an instructor for the Phils during spring training—among other things.

We could discuss Schmidt’s all-Philadelphia career forever, from his 548 non-performance-enhanced home runs, to the first of only two World Series championships his team won, to his Hall of Fame enshrinement.

All the All-Time lists are stamped with his name.

He worked hard to reach his status but name-drops luck as his accomplice.

By the time Schmidt was a senior at Fairview High School, he was playing on two surgically repaired knees and without the endorsement of just about anyone.

It was a time when football’s Joe Namath set the knee-repair standard of cut, paste, and sew up. A nearly ruler-long scar was the tattoo of the day. Few recovered well enough to play a major league sport.

Within four years, Schmidt was an All-American shortstop at Ohio University, a high second-round draft pick by the Phillies, a candidate for a third knee operation the orthopedic surgeon halted just before the OR doors swung open and, well, you know the rest of the story.

Nudged into baseball because of the knees, Schmidt has dodged even more significant health problems, including stage 3 melanoma discovered on his back in 2013.

At age 67, he continues medication, but says, “I’ve been very lucky,” and is cancer free.

His limitations? “I’ve got to wear a helmet when I ride a bike,” he says.

His mother, Lois, still lives in Dayton, and she and her late husband, Jack, deserve much of the credit for their son’s career, but look at the roadblocks.

Schmidt walked on at OU—twice. His left knee was wiped out as a high school sophomore handing a punt, his right as a junior intercepting a pass.

To play other sports, Dave Palsgrove, coach and trainer, wrapped Schmidt’s knees in tape until they chaffed. Bulky knee braces replaced the tape.

“You could hear my knees clanging together when I ran down the court in basketball,” Schmidt says.

At OU, he first made the freshman basketball team until insurance obligations for two bad knees pushed him off the team and left him crying in his dorm room.

Determined, he went to OU trainer Larry Starr (later with the Reds), and worked on strengthening his legs.

He made the freshman baseball team, and as a sophomore, made the varsity lineup when Rich McKinney, a Miami East High School grad, was selected in the first round of the baseball draft. “I stunk as a hitter,” Schmidt says, “and usually batted eighth. But I had pretty good hands.”

Legendary coach Bob Wren asked him to stop switch-hitting one day, against a Miami right-hander.

Schmidt hit a home run. He wonders what would have happened if he popped up or struck out. He never again batted left-handed.

In the summer, he found a spot on Ted Mills’ Parkmoor and Cassis Packaging amateur teams in Dayton. He struggled hitting there, too, but Mills worked with him and he slipped into the lineup.

His home runs were legendary, and the 1971 amateur draft approached.

Jack Baker, an area scout, wanted his Orioles to take him, but Schmidt was glad they didn’t. Brooks Robinson still had several years to play, and third base was going to be Schmidt’s pro position.

Instead, the Phillies took him in the second round, just behind George Brett, who went to Kansas City.

Phillies’ General Manager Paul Owens saw Schmidt hit, field, and run in three games against Bowling Green, whose top pitcher was Doug Bair.

“I did about everything you could possibly do in front of the Phillies’ general manager,” Schmidt says.

He was in the major leagues in 1972 when fate intervened, again.

Left knee surgery was recommended before famed orthopedic surgeon John Moore asked Schmidt to stand up and run down the hospital hall. Schmidt did.

“I’m not operating on that knee,” Dr. Moore said. Schmidt was told to have the Phillies put him in a rehab program. Six days later, Schmidt hit his first home run.

He never had trouble with the knee again.

In 1973, he flashed power. In 1974, he opened the season with a walk-off, two-run homer against Tug McGraw of the defending National League champion Mets.

Health care is better today, but who knows if Schmidt could have been any better?

He walked away a month into the 1989 season, able to dote on his wife and kids full-time.

Facing each day was different, though. Not going to the ballpark at 3 p.m. and getting home at midnight was odd. He does charity work, broadcasts, and coaches. He is humble.

“I got good breaks,” he says. “If you go on post-career, there have been some major challenges for me. But as a baseball player, I was as lucky as a guy could be.”

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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