As a 23-year-old rookie in 1973, Mike Schmidt hit .196 with 18 home runs in 132 games. Not the greatest start. When his 18-year career with the Phillies ended in 1989, he had amassed 548 home runs. Without a doubt, he's the greatest player in Phils history. His career featured many great moments, but one long ball stands out.
Schmidt couldn't have written a more dramatic script for his 500th home run on Saturday, April 18, 1987. The 37-year-old unloaded his historic home run in the top of the ninth inning on a 3-0 pitch with two runners on, two outs and the Phillies down one run to the Pirates. Schmidt drilled Don Robinson's pitch into the sand-colored wall behind the Phils' left-field bullpen, giving them an 8-6 win at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. Only 13 other players had reached that level in baseball history.
To commemorate Schmidt's historic home run, a Toyota Mike Schmidt bobble figurine will be given to all fans on Saturday, July 8.
"I started [the 1987 season] needing five home runs for No. 500," Schmidt said. "It was scary as the possibility of choking on those five was real as everyone was focused on how long it would take me. The team was having a rough start, I believe 1-8, as we went to Pittsburgh for a three-game series. I had hit three in the first seven games and was rolling, feeling pretty good myself."
Schmidt moved to within one of 500 by homering off Bob Patterson in the first game of the series. It came in the second inning. He was hitless in three more at-bats, with a 10th-inning walk.
The next afternoon, Schmidt popped out in the first with two runners on base, walked in the third, flied to left in both the fifth and seventh innings.
"We were behind by two in the top of the ninth as a rally started," Schmidt recalled. "Got two men on base, Juan Samuel beat out a double play, and Von Hayes walked on four pitches. I came up with two on and ran the count to 3-0 and got the green light. A little-known fact is that I finished the game at shortstop."
The greatest personal thrill for Schmidt and his good friend Harry Kalas came precisely at 4:53 p.m. Kalas' emotional call was brief but filled with goosebumps: "Swing and a long drive, there it is! Number 500. The career 500th home run for Michael Jack Schmidt!"
"Schmidt pumped his arms and legs for a giddy moment before he reached first base, then continued his tour of the bases in his normal, stately majestic gait," wrote Paul Hagen, then the Philadelphia Daily News' baseball writer.
"It's a relief," Schmidt said in Hagen's article. "I had a lot of pitches to hit lately, but all those at-bats, I was fighting that adrenaline, fighting the image of the ball flying out to left field."
Going into the season, it was a guessing game for many as to when Schmidt would reach the milestone. He did so in only 11 games.
"Without looking at the schedule or even knowing who we're playing, I'd say around April 20, give or take a couple of days."
Hagen indicated Schmidt had threatened to kiss home plate after the historic trip around the bases.
"There were two reasons I didn't: One was that all my teammates were standing there," said the beaming Schmidt. "The other was that the plate looked kind of dirty."
Knowing No. 500 was coming, Jerry Clothier -- the Phillies' vice president of finance -- obtained a $500 bill from the Federal Reserve. It was given to director of publicity Vince Nauss, who was also on the trip. The bill was to be presented to the fan that caught the ball, along with an autographed bat from Schmidt during a postgame news conference.
Well, the historic ball landed in the Phils' bullpen, and reliever Joe Cowley retrieved it.
"Unfortunately, I had to tell Joe [that] club personnel didn't qualify for the $500 bill," laughed Vince.
Was Nauss nervous about carrying around a $500 bill?