By 1979, Schmidt had already played in four All-Star games, captured four Gold Glove Awards at third base and led the NL in home runs three times. But in the winter of 1979, an unsatisfied Schmidt studied film of Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and tinkered with his batting stance in an effort to drive the ball more to the opposite field.
The offseason work paid immediate dividends. Schmidt raised his game to another level in 1980 and simply exploded with his best statistical season. He crushed 48 home runs, setting a record for the most homers by a third baseman in a single season. Schmidt also scored 104 runs and topped the league with 342 total bases and a .624 slugging percentage.
But Schmidt’s statistics at the plate only told half the story. He also picked up his fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award at the hot corner.
"Mike Schmidt is the best player in the National League today,” said teammate Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hit king. “There's no question about that. He honestly doesn't realize how much ability he has.”
Though the BBWAA voters submit their league MVP ballots immediately following the regular season, Schmidt left little doubt about his value to the Phillies with his postseason performance. Schmidt batted .381, crushed two homers and drove in seven runs – including the series-clinching runs in Game 6 – to lift Philadelphia over the Kansas City Royals and deliver the Phillies’ first Fall Classic title in the franchise’s 97 year history.
“I got the game-winning hit in the final game of the World Series,” Schmidt said. “This has to be the highest point of my athletic career without question.”
Five weeks after the Phillies claimed the World Series trophy, Schmidt received all 24 first place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to become the first unanimous National League MVP since St. Louis’ Orlando Cepeda in 1967. It was the first of three MVP awards for Schmidt.
Schmidt retired in May 1989 with 548 home runs, the most ever by a third baseman and also the most by a player who remained with one team for his entire career. He collected six Silver Slugger Awards and 10 Gold Glove Awards, second only to Brooks Robinson’s 16 at third base.
In 1995, Schmidt received 96.5 percent of the Baseball Writers of America’s Hall of Fame vote – the fourth-best percentage in history at that time – and was inducted as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Class of 1995.
Matt Kelly was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Bat used by Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia Phillies to hit his 536th career home run on June 17, 1988 off of Dwight Gooden of NY Mets to tie Mickey Mantle on the all-time HR list - B-148-88 (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)