An old Schmittage for starved media: A Rose by any other name...

Michael Jack has a few tips for Jimmy Rollins.
Michael Jack has a few tips for Jimmy Rollins.
Posted: February 25, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The most eagerly awaited event in the early weeks of spring training is when Hall of Fame infield instructor pro tem Michael Jack Schmidt makes his brief annual visit.

No. 20 could stir controversy reading a page from the Tilden, Neb., telephone directory. The man who often experienced the "thrill of victory and agony of reading about it the next day" can turn an offhand remark into columns of sparkling, dull-day newspaper and website type. He can dominate a WIP morning show for 4 hours. Which is what he did yesterday.

Nobody blinked Wednesday when he gave an angle-famished gang of ball writers vintage Schmittage when asked if this has a chance to be the best Phillies team of all time.

He was expected to say the addition of Cliff Lee to an already potent starting rotation would be what could and should put the 2011 Phillies ahead of the world champions of 1980 - his team - and 2008.

Elaborate, please.

With Schmitty, the devil is always in the elaborated details . . .

Those extra few nuggets of compulsive truth-telling are what invariably leave footprints on his tongue.

It's all the whats that follow the "But . . . "

With pitching a non-issue - at least for the short haul - all eyes have turned to an offense that underperformed last season. Hell, Cliff Lee's tender under-armer was damn near "Breaking News."

Injuries, of course, were the root cause of an offensive "mixup" that prevailed much of the season. The Phillies were no longer the feared juggernaut of 2008 and 2009. For a while, it looked as if the Braves might bury them.

Schmidt stayed out of trouble until he suggested Charlie Manuel's offense would be more productive if Jimmy Rollins adopted some of the leadoff characteristics of Pete Rose.

Forget about those home run and RBI totals and concentrate more on his on-base percentage, stolen bases, runs scored and all the rest of that neat Littleball stuff Mike kind of ignored himself as Harry Kalas' "Best player in the gaaaaaaaaame todaaaaaaay.''

Ditto Shane Victorino, the lineup's other certified speed guy. Flyin' Hawaiian should do more base flyin' and less high-flyin'.

Well, you can't make a couple of leopards change their stripes, as Paul Owens used to say.

It was baseball-correct for the icon of the 1976-83 sorta-dynasty to suggest that these Phillies need to put more balls in play, be smarter and more in tune with counts and situations. Trouble was, it was him saying things that would have elicited vigorous nods of approval spoken by others who never wore a long, black wig to BP.

Even as Schmidt was speaking to the media, Howard Eskin, subbing for Dan Patrick on his national TV simulcast radio show, was interviewing Lenny K. Dykstra, the pastime's most famous occasionally homeless person. In 1993, Dykstra had the greatest leadoff season in Phillies history. No offense to Rollins, who won the 2007 MVP award based on his leadoff numbers, but the shortstop's power totals including that 38, 20, 30, 41 splurge in doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases, were those of a No. 3 hitter. Leadoff hitters just don't put up sick stats like that.

Lenny, battling to climb out of a $30 million-plus Chapter 7 bankruptcy hole, says he never watches baseball anymore because nobody knows how to play it right.

"It's knowing what to do on every count,'' he said. "Knowing the situation, the score, the inning."

Dykstra still refers to the magic potions that thickened his body the way cornstarch thickens gravy as "neat vitamins." He wink-winked his way through Howard's attempts to get him to utter the "s" word for the first time since his name surfaced in the Mitchell Report. "Just a food supplement that had me feeling really good by the time I reported for spring training."

Lenny led MLB with an other-worldly 143 runs scored that amazing season. He led the NL with 194 hits and 129 walks. He stole 37 bases, homered 19 times. Lots of junk in that trunk . . .

Schmidt's Littleball dissertation underlined the remarkable fact that the Phillies have won four straight East Division pennants and gone 1-1 in the 2008-09 World Series without a prototypical leadoff hitter.

But maybe we are guilty of ignoring history written under our noses. Maybe Rollins represents a new breed of leadoff hitter that relies more on pure offense than the slap hitters of Rose's time and before.

"I don't hit a lot of homers," Pete used to say, "but I'm no damn Punch and Judy hitter. I'm a power hitter because I hit a lot of doubles and triples. I drive in a lot of runs as a leadoff hitter."

Not to mention he was a pure line-drive machine who ripped 2,114 of his unbeatable 4,256 career hits during 10 seasons of 200 or more base knocks.

What Schmitty needed to say was something on the order of, "This club has gone to the postseason four times in a row without a legit leadoff hitter. They seem to have won a couple of Gold Gloves each along the way, as well. So they must be doing something right."

Whatever, the State of Schmidt availability beat hell out of another day of nothing but Allen Iverson's least favorite activity: practice.

Meanwhile, we're about 3 weeks away from the words "meaningless exhibitions" creeping into print. To be followed by the ubiquitous but inevitable, "I was just getting in my work," which is typically accompanied by a bored shrug.

Look for the Ryan Howard and Joe Blanton to the Cardinals for Albert Pujols hysteria to take on a life of its own now that Adam Wainwright's right elbow is officially kaput until sometime next season.

And there is still plenty of time for an avalanche of "Who's batting fifth?" speculation.

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