Mike Schmidt

Posted: September 04, 2008

DURING THE Phillies Alumni Weekend, there is a ceremony to honor living members of the team's Wall of Fame as well as to welcome the latest inductee.

Last month at Citizens Bank Park, Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton were among those who took one more bow. So did fan favorites Tony Taylor and Greg Luzinski. A no-hit pitcher, Jim Bunning. Dallas Green, the only manager to lead the Phillies to a World Series win.

The sellout crowd saved its loudest and longest applause, though, for Michael Jack Schmidt.

Boy, how times have changed.

In 1985, Schmitty so enraged the paying customers by referring to them as a "mob scene" and "beyond help" that he wore a fright wig and sunglasses the next time he took the field at the Vet. Four years later, he theorized that "too many hoagies, too much cream cheese, too much W.C. Fields" might account for what he perceived as the negativity of the fan base.

"As a player, I had a tough time with it and fought it for many years but survived and went as far as to have a special relationship with them and their city," Schmidt said in a recent e-mail asking him to compare his experiences with Donovan McNabb's.

"As I was, Donovan McNabb is an intelligent athlete with a tremendous amount of responsibility, whose upside is taking the team to the Super Bowl and [whose] downside is 'not'. Donovan cannot change the personality of the city, all he can do is his best in his job, figure out a way to enjoy his work, and embrace the goal of winning a championship in a tough environment. ''

Schmidt played for the Phillies from 1972 through 1989, the only organization he ever knew. Along the way, he developed some theories about what makes Philadelphia unique.

"Philly fans are very passionate about their time at the ballpark," he wrote. "They want to be in a dominant winning environment. Their sports teams and those team's players are a large part of their daily existence. Kids watch and listen as their fathers live and die with their teams.

"They don the jersey of their favorite player. They hear cheering, and that ugly sound of booing that becomes a normal, accepted element of their sports lives. The sports teams in Philly offer an escape from the daily grind of Philly life. A high percentage of the population of Philly read the sports section, listen to talk radio, and react accordingly at the games.

"The reason why [Angelo] Cataldi and [Howard] Eskin and others make a good living is because they know how to push the 'hot' buttons. Most times, this is at the expense of those on the field who all, no matter what the sport, work their tails off behind the scenes, like no fan could imagine, to bring them a winner."

And that, Schmidt said, is where the conflict arises.

"Players know how hard they work and how hard they try during a game," he continued. "And in a perfect world, would expect a reasonable level of tolerance for failure from their fans.

"Over the long haul, that environment of tolerance, would have the best chance of allowing a team to perform at its highest level. We all know Philly fans have a low tolerance level. It's their right as fans, and that being the case, players must find a level of understanding that allows them to accept it, and perform in spite of it. Nowhere is the new cliche 'it is what it is' more applicable."

Just as the public sees Schmidt, 58, differently now, he also has a perspective of the people who fill the seats.

"I wish I had the attitude about fans then that I do now," he concluded. "But, of course, I don't have many views of things now that I had then. My father used to say, 'You can't put a 60-year-old head on a 30-year-old kid.' " *

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