CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mike Schmidt stood Friday morning in the Phillies’ clubhouse, invited there by manager Gabe Kapler to address the team on a topic Schmidt could write a thesis about.
What is it like to win in Philadelphia?
It was Schmidt, regarded as the greatest player in franchise history, who brought the Phillies back to relevance before lifting them to their first world title. He knows what it’s like to win in Philadelphia. Winning, he told them, begins with being a good teammate. Look around the clubhouse, Schmidt said, find a player who might be struggling and try to uplift him.
“Every day, there’s someone like that on the team,” Schmidt said. “That’s one thing that will help them come together as a team.”
But what does a star player need to know about Philadelphia? What are the city’s expectations for a high-paid player? Forget winning in Philadelphia, what is it like to just play in Philly?
Those might have been the questions that Bryce Harper, seated at his locker stall, had for the Hall of Famer in the middle of the clubhouse.
“He won’t have a problem because he’s all the things they want in a player,” Schmidt said. “He doesn’t do anything that they won’t like. He’ll run into walls for you. He’ll sign autographs for you. He’ll talk to the media. He’ll say the right things in the clubhouse. Surely, he’ll strike out with the bases loaded every now and then. He’ll do that. He might slip into a slump and catch a few boos now and then. But I’m in the Hall of Fame and I got booed more than anybody. It’s all part of it. The passion of the Philadelphia fan.”
Schmidt said Harper will have “nowhere near” the issues he had in Philadelphia. Schmidt hit 548 homers, won three MVPs, and was a perennial All-Star. Yet he was booed at times and struggled to find peace with it. Why?
“My inability to handle it,” Schmidt said. “My inability to say the right thing, do the right thing in regards to that. My insecurity with the fans. Trying too hard to please them at times. Bryce won’t have that. He has the ‘it’ factor. He understands pressure and knows how to handle it.”
Schmidt was the highest-paid player in baseball when he made $2.13 million in 1985. Harper will make $1.54 million a year just from his signing bonus. With the richest contract in baseball history, Harper will make $330 million over the next 13 seasons. Big money brings big expectations, which can lead to big pressure.
Schmidt faced those same pressures. He was pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1985 under the headline “Baseball’s Millionaires.” People thought then that baseball players were making a lot of money. But Schmidt said he ignored the noise. He felt like he needed to be the league’s best player “whether I was making the minimum salary or whether I was making what I was making.”
“I think Bryce feels that way, too,” Schmidt said. “I think he believes now that he’s the MVP or will become the MVP of the league this year. Now whether that’s because he makes the most money or not, I still think Bryce Harper has that attitude. That’s the way he’s molded and wired for baseball. I don’t think he would have gotten this money if the Phillies didn’t think he was wired that way.”
When Schmidt saw Harper in the clubhouse Friday morning, he was reminded of Pete Rose, the superstar he embraced in this same Florida beach town in the spring of 1979. Rose arrived to that camp, Schmidt said, with the same “aura” that Harper brought this month.
Schmidt described Rose as a winning player who commanded respect. Rose, like Harper, had chosen the Phillies from a selection of free-agent suitors. The Phillies “were a tough clubhouse” before Rose arrived, but Schmidt said Rose brought everyone together by building up his teammates, echoing the advice Schmidt gave to the Phillies Friday morning.
“He told me that he thought I was the best player he ever played with and against,” Schmidt said. "That just made my chest come out. I was a bit of an insecure guy, my personality was. I masked a lot of that with my style on the field. I was insecure enough where when Pete said that to me, that really changed my feeling of myself.”
Rose, Schmidt said, saw the Phillies as a team “right at the doorstep.” They had won three straight division titles and had a lineup built around Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, and Gary Maddox. A season later, the Phillies were world champs.
Harper, Schmidt said, probably viewed the Phillies in the same way. And the Phillies hope Harper can help them get through that door just like Rose did. And then Harper will know, just like Schmidt, what it is like to win in Philadelphia.
“When you hear him talk or meet him, you find that he’s not the cocky guy that you thought he might be,” Schmidt said. “He’s more of a down-to-earth guy. Knows how to win. Knows how to communicate with his teammates. He adds a lot to a club and adds a lot to what we need in Philadelphia.”