Exit Interview: Mike Schmidt

Though Mike Schmidt’s relationship with the media and fans was about as cozy as the seats at the Vet, his Hall of Fame career was spent entirely in Phillies pinstripes, and he’s arguably the greatest third baseman ever. Thus, the thought of discussing the 56-year-old’s hemorrhoids, the metaphoric significance of his mustache, and his flip-flopping on the subject of steroids led Exit Interview to believe Michael Jack, who now lives in Florida, would exit shortly after this interview began. But in Schmidt’s new book, Clearing the Bases, he discusses all — well, maybe not the mustache — and he hung tough as we threw him a few high hard ones.

Exit Interview: Looking back on your career, do you have mixed feelings about your relationship with the team and the city?

Mike Schmidt: Most of it was my fault — my insecurities, my immaturity, always analyzing people, not just accepting it’s a tough town and dealing with it. Scott Rolen was a lot like me, feeling he could control that kind of thing. He and I understand it was a self-defeating environment. They want you to win so bad — if they only knew that when they boo you, it makes it harder for you. God, it’s a tough subject for me. I fought it. Had I embraced it, I would have done even better than I did.

EI: On Bob Costas’s HBO show, you said you would have taken steroids if you played in the ’90s. Then in the introduction to your book, you say you’re sure you wouldn’t have. Why should a fan keep reading if you’re already backpedaling on page 3?

MS: Well, on Bob Costas’s show, the environment was a little pressure-packed. We were shooting from the hip. My position was, hell, why would I be any different from the guys that are playing now? I’m surely not going to take that holier-than-thou position. I’m just being honest. But I don’t know if I would have had information available to me about the downside of it.

EI: And your younger self would never have considered how taking steroids might influence high-school kids 10 years later.

MS: You’re right. I guess it’s the best way I could put it in print, in association with my co-writer, to say that knowing what I know now, I would never have used steroids. But that’s a strange way to put it. Back then, you don’t know what you know now. So in truth, why wouldn’t I have experimented? You got me backed into a corner.

EI: It’s interesting that you address this so early in the book.

MS: That’s a strong push from the publishing company to get headlines. My position is, you’re not getting a Jose Canseco book out of me. I’m not going to say anything that’s going to prohibit me from walking into any clubhouse in the country with this book under my arm. We did the best we could under that scenario.

EI: You write that Dick Allen once called you “the baddest white boy” he ever played with. Did you carry brass knuckles in the clubhouse or something?

MS: I wrote that, but I think that was more of a co-author input. Early on in the book, I talk about my mentors. To me, it’s the boring part of the book — the first six chapters that are about me and my career. Dick Allen is a legend. Back in the day, to be referred to as that by a black man was quite an honor. But it wasn’t because I was a tough guy or could breakdance or something. He saw me as having the speed, the fluid movements, coordination, and the sense for the game that he saw in a lot of people of his race.

EI: One issue you don’t examine in the book is your mustache. My theory is that it was more than facial hair — it was a mask behind which you hid your insecurities. A small, hairy mask. True?

MS: [silence] Well, that’s a wild statement. I’d say it’s friggin’ just a mustache that’s been there since 1974. I have a big-ass gap between my upper lip and my nose. It makes my nose look smaller.

EI: You also reveal for the first time that George Brett wasn’t the only third baseman in the ’80 World Series with a particular buttock-related problem.

MS: I had some serious issues in that part of the ol’ body. The stress I put on myself, it can kind of wear you out down there. He just had a little playful hemorrhoid that made him sit on a pillow for a couple days and became national news, while his old boy Schmidt was in the hospital.

EI: So you had the “baddest” hemorrhoids.

MS: Mine were 10 times worse than his.

EI: Another surprising fact is that Howard Eskin led the write-in campaign that put you in your first All-Star game.

MS: He was an intern at one of the rock stations and a big-time Philly sports fan. I had a great year, probably deserved to start the All-Star game in terms of my stats. Howard took it upon himself to start a write-in campaign and assured my place on the team. That’s how we met.

EI: Were you really his friend, or did he just clean your cleats?

MS: [laughs] Back then, Howard might have done that.

EI: He wouldn’t today?

MS: No, I won’t go there. Our relationship grew over the years, and we got to be friends. He’s always sort of taken my side over the years. That’s a good ally to have on talk radio in Philly.

EI: Your spirituality is also a recurring theme in the book. Do you think that if God did play-by-play, he’d sound like Harry Kalas?

MS: [laughs] I should put that in the book. He’s God’s gift to Philly sports.

EI: Is your statue at the ballpark “badder” than the Rocky statue?

MS: Never seen the Rocky statue. Mine might be in a better spot.

EI: What’s it like to see a statue of yourself?

MS: That is weird. I do not have teeth with that many gaps in them. [laughs] But he made me look better otherwise, so it’s kind of a wash. I don’t know, shoot, I’ve only been there one time, when they unveiled it.

EI: You don’t stop by and give it a rub when you’re in town?

MS: No. Not at all. It surely means you’re going to be around for a while. They’re not going to get rid of me unless they bring a crane in.