Working for a living
Hall of Famer Schmidt embarks on managerial career
Posted: Tuesday April 13, 2004 2:29PM; Updated: Tuesday April 13, 2004 5:42PM
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Do my eyes deceive me, or is this Mike Schmidt looking natty in a Clearwater Threshers uniform? I pull up a seat in his office and before long Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman, has me believing all is right with the game. For a moment, I forget all about greed and performance-enhancement.
Schmidt, now 54, gushes about what he describes as a welcome hiatus from golf dates and fishing excursions -- managing in the bush leagues. You might think he caught a stray golf ball flush on the noggin. Guys of his stature usually slide into a comfy front-office gig or fly first class as part of a big league coaching staff -- rather than enlist to manage the Philadelphia Phillies Class A affiliate in the Florida State League.
But here he was on a recent night hunkered down in the bowels of the new $28 million Bright House Networks Field, a sweet facility that doubles as spring home of the major league club, awaiting his managerial debut. Fellow Hall of Famer George Brett and ex-Phillies teammate Pete Rose have called to wish him well. He'll need their support.
The bus jaunts and hot, muggy Florida summer nights that lie ahead are neither pretty nor glamorous. Apprenticing in front of a couple hundred faithful most games isn't the big time, either. And there are the tedious, nightly game reports he must file on his laptop after each game.
But Schmidt says he's looking forward to all that.
Since he retired in 1989, Schmidt has lived the good life and, believe it or not, he grew tired of it. He never had a job to go to. No responsibilities or anyone to answer to, unless you count popping up at celeb functions or part-time consulting the last couple years for Phillies manager and ex-teammate Larry Bowa.
"This is a big lifestyle change for me," admits Schmidt, whose hair has grayed but who otherwise looks every bit as fit as he did in his playing days. "It is a different kind of responsibility that I not been used to since I retired, but it is a responsibility that has substance attached to it. I am hopefully affecting 25 young lives in positive way out here, not only by what I teach them about hitting or playing the game, but how I teach them about going about their daily lives. Talking to them about the history of the game. Exchanging stories. Having fun with them, traveling with them. It is a mentoring thing.
"And believe me, there was none of that [before]. Sure, I play in some charity golf tournaments and I have a charity function and I raise money and I am a celebrity and all that, but there are not any one-on-one exchanges with young men who I can monitor in an area where I am truly an expert. I can work with a guy's golf swing till I am blue in the face, but I am not an expert. I can take a guy out fishing on my boat and I am not an expert. But I am damn sure an expert when it comes to the batting stroke, baserunning and fielding grounding balls. Now, I am surely not an expert at managing a baseball team, but it really feels good to make a difference, to have some substance in your life."
After talking it over with his wife, Schmidt told Phillies president Dave Montgomery late last season that he was hankering for a job in player development. Three weeks later, he was called to interview for the Clearwater position. Schmidt jokes that he was "better dressed'' than the two other candidates that followed him.
His three National League MVP awards obviously make for an impressive resume, but Montgomery, GM Ed Wade and the Phillies minor league folks needed convincing that Schmidt understood what he was signing up for. The job calls for him to get his hands dirty. And that's probably why Schmidt is the first former player hired as a minor league manager after being elected to the Hall.
Heck, Schmidt thought he was done with the game after retiring in 1989. He smiles now as he recalls that his only previous managerial gig came almost a decade ago when he helpedout the private school in Jupiter, Fla., where his son, John, played. The team fielded just 10 players and Schmidt remembers them struggling just to catch the ball. As for his own shortcoming, Schmidt jokes that he's having to learn how to be ugly with umpires, mindful that he was ejected only once as a player.
So where might this gig lead? If he can stomach the tough stuff -- losing, releasing players, time away from home and his own embarrassing managerial gaffes -- then Schmidt sounds like he might be shopping for a big league job before long.
"If that all remains strong, I think the experience I get here will give me a comfort level to say, 'Hey, I'd like to interview for this job,'" he says. "If a major league job comes up that looks attractive to me, I'll feel like I can jump in there and do it.
"But I can also say it was great experience, and I think I'll go back to my home in Jupiter, the boat behind my house and my golf clubs."
If you're a true fan, you can only hope Schmidt doesn't rush back to the good life anytime soon.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.