CLEARWATER, Fla. - Mike Schmidt played coy recently when asked where he would hit in the current Phillies lineup.

Schmidt, 58, said he didn't know, but he was pretty sure he could bat fourth for the Yankees or Red Sox.

He probably could bat fourth for the Phillies, too. Can you imagine Schmidt hitting in between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard? Charlie Manuel, a man who loves balance in his lineup, would love that.

Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman and member of the 500-home run club, has been in Clearwater for a couple of weeks as an instructor. But before he heads home, we asked readers of The Inquirer's Phillies blog - The Phillies Zone - for their questions.

Schmidt obliged.

To listen to the entire interview, check out The Phillies Zone at http://go.philly.com/phillieszone.

Question: Who is the toughest pitcher you ever faced?

- Tom K., Moorestown, N.J.

Answer: There probably were three or four. [Tom] Seaver, [Bob] Gibson, [Nolan] Ryan. Probably Nolan Ryan at the top of that list because I had more at-bats against him. I faced him in his heyday, when we both were in the middle of our careers.

Q: It seems Phillies fans have embraced you more after your retirement. Did you expect this to be the case?

- Joe G., Denver

A: That probably happened more along the 500th home run. I really noticed it when I passed Mickey Mantle. They started to print my name alongside Mantle's and some of the other guys who were 500 home run guys. And I think the fans kind of sat back and realized what they had in front of them there and appreciated it.

Q: It's been inferred that you lost years playing ball because of the Astroturf at the Vet. When did your knees start bothering you and when do you think it really started to affect your performance?

- Bill S., Philadelphia

A: I don't think I ever lost any time at all because of the turf at the Vet. Knees had really nothing to do with my career ending. That was all about a shoulder surgery that I had and the timing of the team rebuilding, my lifestyle at the time. Basically, I had enough of traveling, being away from the family, and I had accomplished enough as a player. And the ball club wasn't a championship-caliber team. They were rebuilding, and I was so far separated from the rest of the guys in terms of age and experience that it was a good time to retire.

Q: How should Hall of Fame voters evaluate players from the steroid era?

- Christian T., Richmond, Va.

A: We don't really have any choice other than to treat it as a standalone era, maybe from '90 to 2005. . . . During that period, tremendous things were accomplished offensively by players. I think the mind-set has to be it's just a block, a period. Don't compare [Barry] Bonds to [Hank] Aaron, or when you do compare Bonds to Aaron, keep in mind that he played through that era when players dabbled in performance enhancements. You can't expect everybody to buy into that or everybody to accept that or everybody to be aware of it, but that's the way I look at it. I think players themselves look at it that way, to tell you the truth.

Q: When you walk into Citizens Bank Park, does it cross your mind what kind of numbers you could have put up hitting in that ballpark?

- Bob S., Downingtown

A: Yeah, people talk about it all the time. That's the first question out of most people's mouths when you're sitting there at Citizens Bank Park. Can you imagine what you would have done if you had played here? It's unfair to the guys who are playing now to go public with numbers and be real serious about it or anything like that. I never want to detract from Ryan Howard or Chase [Utley] or Jimmy [Rollins] or Pat [Burrell] and what they're accomplishing these days. . . . My numbers would have been relative to the park I would have played in, for sure. I don't know if it would have increased eight, 10 a year? Who knows?

Q: Who was the better fielder, you or John Vukovich?

- Jeff S., Trooper, Pa.

A: Probably John. John, in terms of consistency, made all the routine plays. Of course, some great plays, some diving plays. A lot of them. He was known for his defensive capabilities. In fact, when I first signed with the Phillies, he was a young third baseman that was in the organization that everyone was talking about. In fact, the day that I signed, he was brought up to the big leagues and started that night in a series against the Giants. I watched him start his first major-league game. Good arm. Everything about him defensively was fantastic. I just wasn't as consistent. I'd go to sleep a little bit every now and then on the routine play, which he didn't do. Nor Larry Bowa. They made all the routine plays.

Q: You, in your prime, vs. Ryan Howard in a home run derby. Who wins?

- Dave V., Philadelphia

A: Howard. No doubt. No doubt. Howard or [Greg] Luzinski. . . . I could not hit home runs with those guys in batting practice. I was never a guy that hit long home runs. I had one little seat in the Vet in the upper deck or something. Luzinski had about six or seven. Those guys hit them long like Howard. Burrell is the same way. He can upper-deck them in BP, and I couldn't even think about that.

Q: Which is worse: Larry Bowa in a Yankees uniform or Larry Bowa in a Dodgers uniform?

- Bob L., Oceanside, N.Y.

A: Probably Dodgers, with all the big games we've had with them over the years. Can you imagine ever looking in a crystal ball back in 1977 and we're fighting the Dodgers? . . . It was a major rivalry between that whole crew of [Steve] Garvey and [Ron] Cey and [Dusty] Baker and [Davey] Lopes and our guys. We were a lot alike in that we were probably the two classiest organizations in baseball. The Dodgers had been for a long time. Everybody had wanted to be a Dodger. And, of course, we developed that label back East. First-class everything. Young guys with great talent. Perennial powerhouse. To know that we were that competitive with the Dodgers and to look into a crystal ball and have Bowa see himself in that uniform is kid of comical.

Q: If you could play in any era other than your own, which one would it be?

- Michael L., San Francisco

A: Well, my heart wants to say when the game was a game. When was that? I don't know. I guess back in the Mantle era. The nostalgia of the game back then. My heart would want me to do that, but my brain would say what's wrong with right now? My brain and wallet. But that gets to give and take. I may be flying in my own private jet. If I played now, I'm sure I would. But I also wouldn't have a moment's peace. I wouldn't be able to do anything. My face and something about me every time I did anything would be on ESPN and Mike and Mike. My life would be an open book and I wouldn't have any peace and quiet in my life. So, would I want the private jet and the big yacht and no peace and quiet and privacy in my life? Probably for a short while. And then I'd long for the old days.

Q: You struck out a lot, but also contributed more offense than anyone else. How much do you think we should worry about the strikeouts in the Phillies' lineup?

- Mike C., Gary, Ind.

A: I don't think it matters. It's a given with Howard and Burrell. Power hitters like that have always been in the 125 to 160 range. Ryan gets up there a little too much, but I think that will come down as he gains experience. You just have to focus on the positive side of it. Most runs scored. Best on-base percentage. Led the league in walks. . . . It's all good stuff that leads to five, six, seven runs a game on the average. Unfortunately, that's what you've got to score these days to be a winning team, especially in our ballpark. But I think it's nitpicking to focus on the strikeouts. They'll come down and they'll get better at that, but they're so good at everything else, who cares?