Schmidt’s retirement shook baseball

Written by: Craig Muder

It was an announcement that shocked the baseball world, if only because few saw it coming.

But Michael Jack Schmidt knew that if he couldn’t be the best version of himself, he had no desire to remain on the diamond.

On May 29, 1989, Schmidt – while with his Philadelphia Phillies on a road trip to San Diego – abruptly announced that he was retiring from the game. The Philadelphia Daily News devoted 10 pages to the story the next day under the banner “Suddenly, Schmidt Steps Away” that topped each page.

Schmidt was hitting .203 at the time with six homers and 28 RBI in 42 games – having endured a 2-for-40 slump. But at 39 years of age, it did not seem that the longtime third baseman was unable to compete at the game’s highest level.

Schmidt, though, thought differently.

“I was wondering if I could compete with those guys anymore,” Schmidt told the Daily News, referring to younger National League stars like Kirk Gibson, Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell. “I’m watching them and feeling like a shadow of the player I used to be. And that was telling me it was time to turn the reins over to somebody else.”

So on that Memorial Day in San Diego, Schmidt called it a career. He finished with 548 home runs – seventh all-time at that point – to go along with 10 Gold Glove Awards, 12 All-Star Game selections, three National League MVP Awards and six Silver Slugger Awards.

From 1974 through 1987 – not counting the abbreviated 1981 season – Schmidt played in an average of more than 154 games per year.

“Over the years of my career, I’ve set a high standard for myself as a player,” Schmidt told the Daily News. “My skills – to do the little things on the field, to make the adjustments needed to hit, to make the routine play on defense and run the bases aggressively – have deteriorated.”

Schmidt’s career coincided – not coincidentally – with the best era of Phillies baseball to that point.

Taken by the Phils in the second round of the 1971 MLB Draft from Ohio University, Schmidt led Philadelphia to six Postseason appearances and two National League pennants from 1976-83.

He powered the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980, winning the Fall Classic MVP honors in Philadelphia’s six-game victory over the Royals.

“For a power hitter, he knew the strike zone better than anybody,” Nolan Ryan – then pitching for the Rangers – told the Daily News about Schmidt. “I could never get him to chase a bad pitch.”

Ryan was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999, and he was greeted in Cooperstown by Schmidt – who was elected in his first year eligible in 1995.

“I might be the happiest person in the stadium,” said Schmidt during his tear-filled press conference announcing his retirement. “When you wake up in the morning and you’re a lot happier to be a former player than you were to be a player the morning before, you know you’ve done the right thing. I can’t tell you how relieved I am.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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