Hens catcher Max St-Pierre shakes hands with Mike Schmidt after the Hall of Fame third baseman threw out the first pitch.
Mike Schmidt doesn't know how close he came to becoming a Mud Hen. But it's safe to say he came pretty close.
Toledo became Philadelphia's Triple-A affiliate in 1974, one year after Schmidt had hit just .196 with the Phillies as a 23-year-old rookie.
"Luckily, in 1974 I hit my stride as a player," Schmidt said. "But there was talk in 1973 about me going back to Triple-A. In fact, I probably should have been. I did just enough to stay."
Schmidt saying he "hit his stride" is being modest. The slugging third baseman hit 36 homers and finished sixth in the MVP race in 1974, jump-starting a career that saw the Dayton native inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1995.
Schmidt finally made it to Toledo yesterday, appearing at Fifth Third Field to throw out the first pitch and sign autographs to raise awareness of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also know as an enlarged prostate.
"It's a campaign to enhance the awareness of middle-age men about prostate issues," Schmidt said.
"There's a lot of educational [devices] out there now that weren't available for my 83-year-old father, who is suffering serious lifestyle issues related to a swollen prostate."
Schmidt said one of those information sources is the Web site www.TalkAboutBPH.com.
Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times and finished with 548 career homers. When he retired he stood seventh on the all-time home-run list, but since his retirement in 1989 he has been passed by five players, including suspected steroid users such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.
But Schmidt doesn't condemn players who used steroids.
"If I were playing in that era, I would have found it tough to say no," Schmidt said. "There was so much to gain, so much money and so much opportunity, in getting away with [taking steroids]. I didn't have the policeman in my conscious as I do now as a mature adult.
"I just wanted to get ahead, just like they all did in that era. I look at it with more tolerance because, when I look at myself in the mirror, I realize I probably would have been in the thick of it."
Schmidt was selected to 12 all-star teams, starting seven times. He also won three MVP awards, not to mention 10 Gold Gloves, in an 18-year career spent entirely in Philadelphia.
Despite spending his entire career with one team, Schmidt understands why that happens less and less these days.
"What happened with me would be akin to CC Sabathia being given whatever he wants by Cleveland," he said. "In 1976 the Phillies made me the highest-paid player in the National League.
"In 1981 they tore that contract up and made me the highest-paid player in the National League for six more years. That's why I wore one uniform for my whole career."
Is the fact that fewer players are spending their careers with one team good or bad?
"It depends on what lights your fire," Schmidt said. "If you're a purist who loves baseball as it was 'back in the day' - where the separation between the players and the man on the street wasn't so wide - it would be a big deal.
"I don't know if the game should keep allowing that gap to widen. I don't know if the game will survive on the track it's on now, where there's a gap between the average fan and the players, who are rock stars like Elvis Presley."
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