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Schmidt tries to put Burrell buzz in past

Schmidt tries to put Burrell buzz behind him

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mike Schmidt came prepared.

After Schmidt exchanged pleasantries and said he agrees with Jimmy Rollins that the Phils are the team to beat in the National League East, the conversation shifted to Pat Burrell, arguably Schmidt's favorite "least-favorite" topic. Schmidt's annual visit to Clearwater comes a few weeks after criticizing Burrell and Cincinnati's Adam Dunn for "striking out so much."

"I have actually written a statement, just in case," Schmidt said Monday at Bright House Networks Field, drawing laughter from reporters. "I will give a copy to Pat, so I don't say the wrong thing. I want to put this article to bed."

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The "article" cited Schmidt's latest musing, which happened earlier this month at a breakfast in Dayton, Ohio. After making the keynote address, Schmidt mentioned his frustration to the Dayton Daily News regarding Burrell and Dunn.

"If these guys cut their strikeouts down to 75 or 80, they put the ball in play 85 or 90 more times a year. That's at least 15 more home runs and at least 35 more RBIs," Schmidt told the paper. "If only they had choked up with two strikes, spread their stances out. What they are doing now is not great, it is mediocrity."

Having struck out 1,883 times in an 18-year career gave Schmidt this perspective, amid the irony. Still, his words led to some fallout, especially considering that his strikeout total is the seventh-most in Major League history. Schmidt felt this made him a desired opponent late in the game because pitchers knew they could strike him out. He hopes Burrell can become more of a contact hitter, which in turn will make him the more complete hitter Schmidt said he became late in his career.

His self-written statement expressed this sentiment, and he hoped to repair whatever rift may exist between the man who hit 548 homers and the team's starting left fielder.

"The article [in early February] was about the propensity of power hitters to strike out," Schmidt read. "As you know, I'm pretty well versed on that subject, being in the top five of all time, having K'd almost 1,900 times. I believe a goal of any hitter should be to make contact, especially in crucial at-bats, by understanding how to hit defensively with two strikes, something that took me 14 years to learn.

"My use of the term 'mediocre' was in poor taste, and I'm sorry if it offended, but it was not intended to label Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn, or their accomplishments, but to point out that at some point, as a result of reducing strikeouts, their future accomplishments will make their past seem 'mediocre.'

"Since meeting Pat six years ago, I have relived my career through him, as we have so many similarities. I root for him every game, and feel that in 2007, given good health and 600 at-bats, Pat will assert himself as one of the top run-producers in baseball."

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Schmidt folded up the piece of paper and smiled.

"That should put that article to bed," he said. "I really don't want it to resurface and create any friction between he and I."

This is the second time Schmidt has issued a statement following a dust up with Burrell. In 2003, the year in which Burrell hit .209, Schmidt said he "felt Burrell's pain," and wanted to help. So as long as Schmidt keeps discussing the enigmatic slugger who puts up statistics, yet is still regarded as having not fulfilled his potential, the friction likely will remain.

"There's no point," Burrell said, matter-of-factly, when asked if he'd talk to Schmidt, though they did speak after workouts and Burrell read the statement.

When asked about Schimdt's comments on Feb. 14, Burrell said: "Coming from a guy that struck out a lot, I understand. Do I strike out a lot? Yeah, I always have. Is that going to change? Hopefully. I like to think of myself as a run-producer, and that's what I'm here to do."

Schmidt is trying to steer Burrell away from the pitfalls that affected him for his first 14 seasons. By becoming a better two-strike hitter -- or more specifically hitting with fewer than two strikes -- Schmidt feels he was at his most complete.

"I literally became a really good hitter in '86 and '87," Schmidt said. "I was a dangerous hitter my whole career [before that]. They feared me, and I accumulated a lot of league-leading stats, but I always felt the other team wanted me up there. I didn't like that feeling. I wanted to be a complete hitter."

Schmidt spoke of an era when few right-handed power hitters were hitting above .300, and how he desperately wanted to be a guy who could hit a ball up the middle with two outs and a runner on second, rather than the guy who grounded to third if thrown a slider in a pressure situation.

"I could have had a lot more fun if I didn't [care] what I hit," he said. "I didn't want to be a guy who had a lot of holes, who was easy to strike out. Bust him up and in and throw a slider away in the dirt and he'd wave at it. I was that guy a major part of my career. Life can be tough as a Phillies player when your expected, expected to produce."

With that came the boos that Schmidt remembered hearing, and now hears directed at his reincarnated self. In 1986-87, Schmidt's strikeouts fell to 84 and 80, respectively, and produced averages of .290 and .293, his two highest full-season marks.

Coincidence?

"I went to the theory of driving the ball down," Schmidt said. "It's so simple. I tried to drive it on the ground. It levels out your swing. If you try to lift the ball you're going to hit a lot of foul balls, and to hit with two strikes a lot. Then you're vulnerable to offspeed pitches, and the pressure and fear of failure come into your game as a hitter."

Schmidt, who led the league in homers eight times and in strikeouts four times -- fanning the seventh-most times in history -- preaches aggressiveness earlier in the count. These lessons he learned through experience. He feels Burrell can be that guy, and just doesn't want it to take 14 years.

"I can imagine how good the Phillies will be when he does becomes this guy," Schmidt said.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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