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No player dominated baseball in the 1980s more than Mike Schmidt. The future Hall of Famer won three MVP awards and made seven All-Star teams. He led the league in homers five times and led in OPS+ six times. And, oh yeah, he also played stellar defense. Given all this, it’s easy to see why The Sporting News named Schmidt baseball’s player of the decade in its Jan. 29, 1990, issue. Writer Bill Brown produced a lengthy feature highlighting Schmidt’s many accomplishments, and also picked his brain about the future of the game.

Original publish date: January 29, 1990

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Nobody Did It Better: Schmidt Selected TSN Player of the Decade
By Bill Brown

PHILADELPHIA — Mike Schmidt had already said his hellos and become a household name by 1980, when the Philadelphia Phillies third baseman stepped over the boundaries of greatness to become the most prosperous — and possibly the most complete — baseball player of his generation.

Four times a Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner and three times the National League home-run leader, he was coming off a season in which he had hit 45 home runs when the Phils arrived in Clearwater, Fla., for spring training in 1980.

A perennial All-Star and the game’s highest-paid performer, Schmidt greeted the new season and the new decade with a drive to excel that wasn’t exhausted until the stars of the 1990s were approaching the starting line of a new era.

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When he retired last May 28, out of uniform in a sports jacket and out of character in heaving sobs, Schmidt took with him a treasure chest of awards and a list of achievements that few, if any, of his contemporaries could rival.

And although he never really worked his way into its heart, Schmidt clearly slugged his way into the nation’s psyche.

How else can one explain the phenomenon of Schmidt’s being elected to start at third base for the National League All-Star team after he retired last spring?

So, as the decade grew to its conclusion, The Sporting News honored the player who had everything by naming Michael Jack Schmidt its Player of the Decade in balloting by a panel of TSN editors.

Any why not? All Schmidt did in the decade was hit more home runs than anyone else (313), earn three Most Valuable Player awards and play in the World Series twice.

He also earned six more Gold Gloves and an equal number of Silver Slugger awards. He made eight All-Star teams in the decade, opened the decade with eight consecutive 30-homer seasons, had 929 runs batted in during the ’80’s and earned more money than any player in history.

Saying it was “extremely flattering” to be hailed as the best player of the 1980’s, Schmidt was also humble in discussing the fans’ will that he be named the N.L.’s All-Star third baseman despite his retirement.

In a wide-ranging interview exploring the final 10 years of his 17-year career, Schmidt was typically candid. He didn’t balk while discussing his stature in the game or check his swing in evaluating the game’s new stars.

Schmidt was outspoken in assessing his managers, calling them the way he saw them. He touched on the politics of winning an MVP award and looked to his future in the decade ahead.

“Of all the honors, that was the most unusual one,” Schmidt said of being voted to the All-Star team after retiring. “I think a lot of it had to do with the national coverage of my retirement. I think fans were saying ‘Remember seeing him retire on TV? Let’s vote for him.’

“It was sort of like a cult thing developed around me. I mean, there wasn’t any campiagn. It wasn’t like Donna (Mrs. Schmidt) and I were sitting home with the kids (Jessica and Jonathan) stuffing ballot boxes. I think people began to see it happening, and they said ‘Let’s make it happen.’

“But I never took it for granted. I figured (the Mets’) Howard Johnson could’ve passed me at any time.”

But no one passed Schmidt in the fans’ balloting, just as no one surpassed his achievements in the ’80s.

The Cardinals’ Whitey Herzog, whom many consider to be the manager of the decade, wasn’t very comfortable praising one player at another’s expense, but he knew who deserved to be called the best player of the decade.

“If I say who I think is the best player of the decade, I wind up with one guy in love with me and a lot of other guys who hate me,” he said. “But it’s Mike Schmidt, right? We know all about the Gold Gloves, and we know all about the home runs he hit. I also believe he made the most money in the decade, about $16 million. Yeah, that makes him the player of the decade.”

In fact, Schmidt made roughly $20 million playing baseball exclusively for the Phillies, and it was money well spent according to Phillies President Bill Giles.

“He gave us 110 percent every single night in every single at-bat,” Giles said. “He set the standard for professionalism around here. I’ve never regretted giving a big contract to a player who puts up big numbers. And Mike Schmidt gave us the kind of numbers, year after year, that you fully can’t appreciate until he’s gone and you’re confronted by the problem of trying to replace that production in the middle of your lineup. Yes, he made a lot of money here. And he was worth every penny of it.”

At 48, the pepper in Schmidt’s red hair has been giving way to the salt for a few years. He rolls his blue eyes and just whistles when asked for an educated guess about what kind of salaries baseball’s top wage earners will command at the end of the next decade.

Schmidt was considerably more vocal, however, in his evaluation of the stars who might become the premier players of the 1990s, the leading candidates to join Stan Musial (1946-55), Ted Williams (’50s), Willie Mays (’60s), Pete Rose (’70s) and Schmidt in winning TSN Player of the Decade honors.

“We’re talking domination,” he said of his criteria. “We’re talking about a player coming as close as he can to becoming a complete player. He’s not only got to have the big bat, he’s got to be one of the best at fielding his position. And he’s got to know how to do the other things it takes to help his team win.

“If you don’t say (the Giants’) Will Clark, you’d be crazy. From what I’ve seen, he’s got some serious momentum going into 1990. He’s got the talent and the attitude to be a great one. He looks like the kind of guy who can handle the ups and the downs. Some people may not like him because he looks a little cocky. But I understand that. I was like that, too.

“Another guy I’d have to give serious consideration to is (the Yankees’) Don Mattingly. He’s still young enough. And, like I did, he’s going into the next decade knowing he’s already established himself in the game.”

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