On this day, 20 years ago: my story on baseball Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies appeared on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer sports section.
Having just begun my journalism freelancing career the year before, it was a thrill to have scored such a prominent placement.
At that time, it had been 20 years since the Phillies had won a World Series. Instrumental in that title was Schmidt, whose 48 home runs that year were easily the most in the National League. In fact, it was the most dominant longball performance of the last half of the 20th century — a truth that few recognized until I created the Home Run Power Ratio (HRPR) in the late 1990s amid the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa hoopla.
Having Sports Illustrated place a spotlight on the HRPR the preceding autumn was most helpful as I sought to get the attention of other publications back then, including “The Inky,” as the City of Brotherly Love’s venerable newspaper is affectionately dubbed.
The Allure of 5- and 10-Year Anniversary Increments
Securing that Schmidt assignment was a byproduct of my recognition that editors are softies when it comes to multiples of five and 10 when they think about anniversary stories. So, as 1999 gave way to 2000 — when so many folks were freaked out about The Much-Dreaded Y2K Armageddon (kids, look it up) — my attention was focused instead on pitching a story on the historical significance of Schmidt’s 1980 campaign.
My cause was aided by the fact that it was the first of his three Most Valuable Player seasons, and that he went on to be enshrined in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
My story opens with Schmidt reflecting on how many home runs he could have accumulated had he played during a later era. Inside scoop: though I tried to speak with the retired slugger personally, he declined to return my messages.
That portion was graciously contributed by Jim Salisbury, the longtime beat reporter covering the Phillies who had chatted with Schmidt a few months earlier and had not parlayed those particular notes into any article. I am grateful that Jim not only tossed those notes my way, but that he championed my story pitch to Inquirer editors.
To top it off on the jump page, the Inquirer assembled a comprehensive “Where Are They Now?” chart on all of Schmidt’s teammates from that championship squad, which made for a compelling complement to my story.