Altoona Mirror - March 31, 1980
Schmidt: Odds Against 50-Homer Season
By MIKE TULLY, UPI Sports Writer
CLEARWATER, Fla. (UPI) — Someone asked Mike Schmidt what has happened to the 50-home run season.
"I guess it's possible to do," the Philadelphia Phillies third baseman said. "But year in and year out, the odds against it are increasing."
Schmidt, despite leading the National League three times in home runs and finishing second to Chicago's Dave Kingman last year with 45, has never hit 50 home runs in a season.
He is not alone. Neither Kingman, nor Boston's Jim Rice, nor Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas have ever reached the figure. In fact, when Cincinnati's George Foster clouted 52 in 1977, he became the first player in 14 years to hit 50 or more.
Foster, Hack Wilson, Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays are the only National Leaguers ever to hit 50. In the American League, only Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg and Mickey Mantle have done it.
"With the symmetrical ballparks and the importance of relief pitching, it's very hard to do in this day and age," Schmidt said. "Pitching has become more of a science. And the relief pitchers throw very hard."
Schmidt, 30, has hit 235 career homers, or an average of 33.6 per full season. He believes a very special combination of forces must occur to allow anyone to hit 50 homers.
"You need to be healthy," he said. "You have to have someone behind you in the lineup who will force the pitcher to throw you more potential home run balls. There's not too many Fenway Parks or Wrigley Fields around."
In discussing the topic of 50 home runs, Schmidt never indicated he would ever shoot for the figure. If everything worked out that way he wouldn't object, but he likes lo keep his goals in perspective. And he can do other things.
For example, Schmidt has not scored less than 93 runs in a season since 1973. He has driven in 100 or more runs in four of the last six seasons. He has drawn 100 or more walks in five of the last six seasons and averaged nearly 18 stolen bases per season. He admits that home runs form a big part of his game, though. "At the end of the year I'd be disappointed if I didn't hit 30," he said. "The only way I wouldn't be disappointed would be if they asked me to try more for average. That would make my home runs go down."
If the Phillies asked Schmidt to try less for power and more for average, he could probably hit well above his lifetime batting average of .253. He would make more contact — he has not struck out less than 100 times in a season since 1973.
But the Phillies would miss the awesome threat he represents every time he grabs a bat. Already this spring he showed what he can do. Meeting a fastball from the New York Mets Juan Berenguer perfectly, he drove the ball at least 450 feet,
"It feels good,” said Schmidt, referring to the reaction that comes from hitting a ball so well. "It's no different than driving a golf ball 280 yards down the middle of the fairway. But it's only one swing and one time at bat. It's over with and you have to play tomorrow.
"It's not like a great catch in football or a game-winning foul shot. That game against the Mets was four hours long and by the time it was over, I was wondering if I had hit the homer in that game or the day before."
Schmidt says the blur of time that occurred in the Mets game provides another reason why it is so difficult to hit 50 homers.
"Sometimes over the course of the season the times at-bat become a blur," he said. "You take batting practice, you take fielding practice, you play. Before you know it you've gone 20 or 30 times at-bat before you realize, 'Hey, what the heck have I been thinking about at the plate? You think you're concentrating, but you're not.
"It's easy to stay physically in shape for this game. Hey, you go out and play nine innings. But the mental strain is the tough part."
Schmidt cites teammate Pete Rose as an example of a player who can overcome the distractions and the mental demands to produce- He also rates Foster the most impressive hitter he sees.
"There's a guy," Schmidt said, who missed almost half of last year and still drove in 98 runs. "He hits with power, and he hits in the clutch."
Still, Schmidt likes to think he has left his own mark on the National League.
"I've accomplished some strange numbers for a guy who hits .253," he said. "I don't care if I hit .150. If I drive in 100 runs and score 100, then I've done something to help the team."