What are the three most wonderful letters in the English alphabet?
F-J-M. That’s what.
(Mike) Schmidt is the best ever.
OK. You’ve got our attention. Make your case, Allen Barra.
In 2002 I wrote a book called Clearing the Bases, a collection of arguments about various baseball players, one of which was that Mike Schmidt was, quite possibly, the greatest baseball player of all time.
OK. Now we’ve got your credentials. And we are impressed. But slow down. Our brain can’t handle this much information. Now when you say “greatest”…
That is to say that if all players in baseball history lined up to play against the same competition at the same time and under the same circumstances, there was a very good chance that Schmidt would emerge as the best ever.
In 2006, Mike Schmidt got his revenge…
On you? For what? For that time you wrote a book calling him the greatest player ever? Yeah, he must have been dreaming of a chance to get back at you for that one.
…coauthoring a book also titled Clearing the Bases without once acknowledging that he stole his title from me.
Is this an article about Mike Schmidt or an article about how you wrote a book about Mike Schmidt? When do we get to the good stuff?
(Actually, as I found out later, someone else had used the title several years before both of us.)
So you do believe in coincidences. And that potentially, not everyone is clamoring to steal your ideas (says the man stealing from FJM).
My book was better than Schmidt’s…
All right, I can’t take this crap anymore and we’re only five sentences into this freaking article. I DON’T CARE ABOUT ALLEN BARRA. GET TO THE FREAKING ARGUMENT.
…in part because I made the argument that Mike Schmidt might have been the best player ever, and Schmidt, in his own book, did not.
So because Mike Schmidt wasn’t the pompous ass that you are, his book is lesser? Glad we cleared that one up there, champ.
Schmidt, however, did make an important point that I missed –
Finally. You’re going to give me some interesting insight.
- I’ll get to that in a moment.
My balls are blue.
First, let me give you a brief synopsis of my case for Schmidt, supplemented with what I’ve learned in the eight years since I first made it. I weight the argument heavily in favor of players who entered the big leagues after 1950, when the game became fully integrated.
The game was fully integrated in 1950? I suppose that’s true, if you discount the fact that a couple of teams – like, the Yankees, White Sox, Red Sox, Athletics, Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Senators, Phillies, Tigers, and Cardinals – were yet to have any African-Americans play for them in 1950. But as long as 5 out of 16 teams had at least one, that counts! Hooray for equality!
I’m not saying that Babe Ruth or Josh Gibson weren’t the best players of their or any other time, but I don’t feel that we’ll ever really know because they didn’t play against each other.
But you can, apparently, compare Mike Schmidt to Eddie Matthews even though they didn’t play against each other. Yeah, that sounds fair.
The era when competition was keenest, I believe, was about 1970 to around 1990…
Dude, just come out and say it. You know damned well whose career fits neatly in that arbitrary time frame. It’s Schmidt’s. He played from 1972-1989. You know who played in the decade before then that you’re conveniently leaving out? Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, etc, etc. God, I hope you’re going to give me a good reason why you chose this time over any other…
…before millions of black kids became alienated from baseball and millions more white kids discovered video games.
Ho-lee Fawk. Video games? That’s what you’re going with? Video games. Well, it’s then my contention that the greatest era of baseball players must have been pre-1957, after which millions of children’s minds and pelvises were co-opted by the hula hoop. Their swings would never be the same.
I believe that in the future, when someone takes time to make such an analysis, they’ll find that the talent level was higher in that period because there were more kids competing for big-league jobs – native Latin as well as American.
I believe that in the future, when someone takes time to make such an analysis, they’ll find that there will be more Europeans, East Asians, South Asians, Middle Easterners, Australians, Africans, and Inuit competing for big-league jobs because that’s just the way the world works.
Mike Schmidt was the best ballplayer of that era.
You mean the arbitrary era that you created and are the only one to recognize just to make your argument appear to have some sense of validity? OK, I’ll bite. How about Joe Morgan? Rickey Henderson? Johnny Bench?
He played perhaps the toughest position.
No, he most certainly did not.
On what evidence do I make that claim?
I haven’t a clue.
The Hall of Fame – there are fewer third basemen in Cooperstown than any other position, even catcher…
Or, how about, “most people understand that positions like catcher, shortstop, centerfield, second base, and pitcher are more demanding positions on the field and thus ought to be recognized for their accomplishments moreso than third basemen”?
…and Mike Schmidt played a great third base while leading the National League eight times in home runs in just 16 full seasons (i.e., more than 100 games).
This is true. Schmidt was a great player. No arguments there. But he played in Veterans Stadium, one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in the game at that time. Besides, there’s more to baseball than homeruns, you know?
To be honest, although I followed Schmidt’s career very closely, I saw him play more than 100 times in person, but didn’t realize that Schmidt had won eight home run titles.
Then you did not follow his career very closely.
I mean that’s positively, well, Ruthian. The Babe won 12 home run titles in 17 full seasons, but some of those came before most players began swinging for homers. (I’m counting 1918, when he played just 95 games but led the league in home runs, and 1925, when he played 98 games, as full seasons.)
So you decide to give statistical evidence of why Babe Ruth was a far more dominant hitter than Schmidt was to assert that Schmidt was the greatest? I’m afraid I can’t quite follow.
For Schmidt to lead eight times in an era when the competition was so much better, is, I think, the greater achievement.
First off, Schmidt’s competition was not “so much better”. His main rivals for the NL HR crown were the likes of George Foster, Dave Kingman, and Dale Murphy. Good power hitters, to be sure. But they’re not Hall of Famers. So how can you state that his competition was “so much better”?
How good a power hitter was Schmidt? Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, the consensus best players in the two decades before Schmidt, played more than 100 games in a combined 35 seasons. In 16 100-plus game seasons, Schmidt won as many home run titles as Mantle and Mays combined.
Doesn’t this say more about the high level of competition during Mays and Mantle’s time than it does about Mike Schmidt’s greatness? I mean, you’re hiding the fact that out of those eight HR titles Schmidt won, he hit 40+HRs (in a hitter’s park, mind you) only two of those years. Mantle hit 54 in 1961 and didn’t win the title.
But, it would be argued by many… that Schmidt was only a .267 hitter who topped .300 just once during his career. Yes, but smart sportswriters understand today what many did not 30 years ago – the ability to reach base consistently as measured by on base average is more important than batting average.
Then you should know that among players who played in at least 1000 games during your arbitrary time frame Mike Schmidt’s .380 OBP is 13th behind the likes of Mike Hargrove, Gene Tenace, Ken Singleton, Bernie Carbo, and Pedro Guerrero (and for the record, another third baseman, Wade Boggs, is first on this list with a .443 OBP).
Schmidt led the league in OBA three times, which is as many times as Mantle led his. Mays’ career batting average was 35 points higher than Schmidt’s. Hank Aaron’s was 38 points higher. Yet Schmidt, in 16 full seasons, led the National League in OBA more than Aaron and Mays combined.
That’s because the National League sucked during this time. As a reference, over the last 30 years, only two National Leaguers led the league in OBP despite finishing the year below the .400 mark. And yes, Mike Schmidt is one of these people.
In the field, Mike Schmidt was outstanding, winning 10 Gold Gloves at third base. I didn’t realize exactly how good he was until I examined his stats in detail.
Again. Then you didn’t follow his career closely.
Schmidt’s career range factor is 28 points higher than the league average for players at his position over the same period.
Again, no one’s going to argue that Schmidt wasn’t a great fielder. But you should also know that Schmidt’s career Ranger Factor per game is 3.0. George Brett’s? 3.0. Juan Castino, Graig Nettles and Darrell Evans? All 3.0. Buddy Bell? 3.1. You can’t just use comparisons when it suits your case there, Allen.
So, am I really saying that Mike Schmidt was the greatest player of all time?
Well, you said that in the article’s title. And in the first sentence. And in the second… So, yeah. You are.
WHAT??? ARE YOU TURDING ME (I have to think about the children, folks)??? You mean you just spent the last 866 words bloviating all over the place for no frickin’ reason??? Do you know how stupid I feel right now? Do you know how stupid YOU should feel right now??? What is the point of this article???
I think many Phillies fans, myself included, underrated him because of his batting average and the fact that he struck out so much (more than 100 a season 12 times).
Well, you didn’t know any better, I suppose…
We forgot, or didn’t notice, that he hit into double plays with a lower frequency than Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mays, Aaron, Reggie Jackson, or even Pete Rose.
Uhh… That’s your big finale? That he didn’t hit into a lot of double plays? Well… yeah. If you strike out more, you make contact less frequently, which will probably result in fewer double plays… DiMaggio struck out like, what? 30 times a year?
And he did it all, as he did not hesitate to remind us in his book, before the age of chemical enhancement.
But well into the age of hula hoops.
Look, this is not to say that Mike Schmidt wasn’t one of the All-time greats. Clearly, he was. He may very well be the greatest third basemen to ever play the game. I don’t think he was the best player ever, but I’m sure somebody could probably make a compelling argument that he was. Barra’s argument, however, is so nonsensical and contains so many contradictions that it does Schmidt a disservice.