Former Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt appeared at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory to accept the 12 Living Legend Award presented by the company which manufactures the world’s most iconic baseball bat. Approximately 200 people showed up in November to honor Schmidt at the by-invitation-only event, which has become one of the hottest tickets on the hot stove league baseball calendar.
Schmidt, a 12-time NL All-Star and 1995 inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, perfectly exemplifies the type of player and person Louisville Slugger seeks to honor by its award. Award guidelines state that it was created “to honor a person whose career in baseball and life outside the game have taken on legendary qualities by virtue of his talent, achievements, and personal conduct. Beyond statistics, recipients of this award have demonstrated a mythic impact upon baseball and American culture.”
“We are proud to include Mike Schmidt as part of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory family and honored to present him with the 2019 Living Legend Award,” Louisville Slugger VP and Executive Director Anne Jewell said prior to the evening. “One of the best to ever play the game, Schmidt is a true ambassador for the sport and a fan favorite.”
The Living Legend Award ceremony is part of a huge weekend at Louisville Slugger each year in early November, and it includes a giant auction of baseball memorabilia run by Hunt Auctions of Philadelphia. Many of the spectacular items to be auctioned on Saturday were on display in several large cases in the room where the award ceremony took place, and attendees had plenty of time to peruse the treasures as they enjoyed delicious food and drink provided by the hosts. Prior to the start of the ceremony, there was a meet and greet in the “Clubhouse” room where attendees were able to have their picture taken with Schmidt.
Jewell began the ceremony by explaining that naturally Louisville Slugger tends to give its special Living Legend Award to players who used Louisville Slugger bats. Nothing wrong with that, right? She then drew everyone’s attention to a baseball bat positioned nearby on the stage. There was a story connected to the bat, and of course it involved the guest of honor, Mike Schmidt. Back in the 1970s Louisville Slugger practically had a monopoly on supplying the major leagues with baseball bats. Its only competition to speak of came from a company called Adirondack, and in an attempt to distinguish their bats Adirondack ran a piece of red or blue tape around the handle of each of their bats, just below the trademark. The bat on the stage, which Jewell said had been used by Mike Schmidt, had a red piece of tape around the handle, which left everyone scratching their heads. By means of explanation, Jewell directed everyone to turn to the video screen next to the stage and watch a Chevy truck commercial from the 1970s. As a voice-over talked about how great the Chevy brand of trucks was, Mike Schmidt, in Phillies uniform, walked around the truck pointing out its features with a baseball bat—a bat bearing a red piece of tape—that apparently was an Adirondack bat. But then the video froze, as Schmidt turned the bat while pointing out some truck feature, and we could all see plain as day, the famous Hillerich & Bradsby trademark in the center of the bat! Everyone, including Schmidt, got a big laugh out of the exposure of his little deception. Schmidt was a Louisville Slugger man after all, and in fact over his professional career he ordered a total of 518 bats from the company.
Dave Hunt was next. After pointing out that Hunt Auctions first teamed up with Louisville Slugger in 2004, he said, “I’ve run out of ways to say ‘thank you’ to Anne, who has made this into a world class museum.” Hunt, a longtime resident of the Philadelphia area and a life-long Phillies fan, detailed how much the guest of honor always meant to him and other Phillies fans. Hunt claimed that when Little League uniforms were handed out in Phillies territory, kids always vied for one of two numbers: 32 (Steve Carlton) or 20 (Mike Schmidt). His best anecdote recounted how two kids on his Little League team got into such a tussle over No. 20 one year that they injured themselves and actually missed the first game of the season. Hunt concluded by recognizing Mike’s devotion to worthy causes and charities, by personally thanking him for “owning the New York Mets,” and by stating that being able to take part in this celebration is “one of the honors of my life.”
After a video based on a biographical poem of Schmidt’s life and career (“Every Time You Stepped on the Diamond”) was shown, Jewell called Schmidt to the stage and handed him the box containing his Living Legend Award: a beautiful gold ring featuring crossed bats (of course) laid into the precious stone. Schmidt was totally surprised when he saw the ring. “I didn’t know I was receiving this. Can I try it on?” he said. He clearly hadn’t visited the Louisville Slugger Museum website, which features photos of Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron proudly holding up their rings. Presumably, he figured his award would be a non-descript plaque of some sort, if he’d thought about it at all. In any event, he seemed touched.
He thanked everyone for “coming out for this thing” and said that after being retired for 30 years it was nice to be mentioned in discussions about hitting and great hitters.
“Hitting a baseball has been a big part of my life,” he said, “and when that’s the case, Louisville Slugger and the names Hillerich and Bradsby are sure to be part of the discussion too. Every one of us here had a baseball bat in our hands at some point in our lives, and it was probably a Louisville Slugger.” He recalled how big a treat it was to go as a kid to the local sporting goods store in Dayton with his dad. “All we wanted to do was get a bat with our favorite player’s name on the barrel.” Schmidt said in college he’d used a K55 Louisville Slugger. Even though the bat had Mickey Mantle’s name on it, Schmidt said he learned while taking the tour of the factory that it was a Chuck Klein model bat; quite appropriate as Klein was one of the best hitters in Philadelphia Phillies history. Mike said he also learned that the R43 was a Babe Ruth model; that Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, and Robin Yount all used a P72 for most of their careers; that Stan Musial’s bat was a 159; and that Mickey Mantle’s bat was a M110. “It’s amazing how many great players used a Louisville Slugger,” he said.
Saying that he’d had a nice chat with a member of the Hillerich family about “all the different things we used to do with baseball bats,” Schmidt went on a riff on the subject, saying that he and his Phillies teammates used to constantly “bone” their bats in the clubhouse, meaning that they rubbed something hard (like a bone or a pop bottle) up and down the bat barrels to keep the grain tight. Other things he mentioned included sanding ‘em (“Pete Rose taught me to do that, and we’d keep sand paper in our lockers”), pine tarring them, taping them, corking them (some guys did this, not Schmidt), cupping them (“That would take a couple of ounces out of the end of the bat”), throwing them (accidentally, of course) into the stands, using them to pound mud out of your spikes, autographing them (“I’ve autographed thousands of bats”) … and on and on. “There are so many things I know about bats,” he said. “I even slept with ‘em. When that bat was treating me well, I’d take it to bed and lay it next to me.”
Switching gears, Schmidt said that he hadn’t known there was a museum at Louisville Slugger. He’d been very impressed with the tour of the factory and recommended it to all. Noting that “the bat industry was different back then” (when he played in the majors), Schmidt said that it was very competitive today with about 25 different companies making bats. “I would challenge any of them to put on an event as classy as this,” he added.
After kidding Jewell that she had a lot of nerve in bringing up the Adirondack bat and staging it as a prop next to the speaker’s podium, he told the story of how the situation came about. On the first day he was called up to the majors from the Phillies’ minor league team in Reading, Pa., Schmidt says he found an envelope on the stool in front of his locker. Inside was a contract from Adirondack promising that if Schmidt signed it, agreeing to use only Adirondack bats for life, the company would give him a free set of golf clubs. Back then players did not have an army of lawyers and financial advisers and a free set of golf clubs sounded pretty good, so Schmidt signed the contract and mailed it in. Nevertheless, he still liked to swing Louisville Slugger bats, so as he became more cognizant of the importance of branding, he attempted to live up to the spirit, if not the letter, of the contract. Thus, his doctoring of Louisville Sluggers to make them appear to be Adirondacks. “I’m guilty!” he said. “I wouldn’t do it today, but that’s the story.” Schmidt also explained why he’d walked onto the field one day wearing a big hairy wig and sunglasses under his ball cap, a photo of which appeared in the video, accompanying the line about Manager Danny Ozark and GM Paul Owens having “backed you ‘gainst the boo birds.” It seems that after one tough Phillies loss the fans reacted very negatively, and in frustration Schmidt told the media that the fans in Philadelphia were like a mob. The next morning’s headline in the sports page repeated the comment. “That’s the wrong thing to call Philly fans,” Mike said. The team went to Montreal for a few games, and when they returned to Philadelphia the home town fans were ready to boo Schmidt to the moon. Realizing this, Schmidt donned the outlandish wig and sun glasses, which he’d found in flake Larry Anderson’s locker, and asked his teammates what they thought. Their dares and challenges to his manhood left him with little choice, and so with the permission of his manager he trotted onto the field when he was introduced over the PA system. To the total surprise of Schmidt and his teammates, there was complete silence in the ball park. And then as the fans grasped what Schmidt was doing, they began applauding and laughing with the result that the potentially ugly situation was defused.
This incident put Schmidt in mind of his relationship with the fans of Philadelphia, and he acknowledged that “I was way too sensitive for Philadelphia. Even though I played there for 18 years, I didn’t enjoy playing there as much as I should have, and if I had it to do over, I would change the way I handled things. I wouldn’t change the way I played, but I would try to come out of the box a little more, like I did when I wore that wig. In the end, it worked in Philadelphia. The fans in Philly pushed me and pushed me and I went into the Hall of Fame with them. Now I have a great rapport with the fans in Philly and I work as a broadcaster for the team, and everything is good for me now. And it’s especially good with me being here tonight with all you people and the family from Hillerich and Bradsby, Louisville Slugger. So thank you again for thinking of me and for this award. I know there have been some great players and great men who have won this award, and it is a great honor for me to join them.”
“Every Time You Stepped on the Diamond”
A poem by Mike Shannon to commemorate Mike Schmidt’s Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Living Legend Award
It started long ago, the fire inside, that kept a calling mother at the door.
“One more at-bat, one more!” you’d cry to stall the dark at Ridgecrest Park.
That flame burned brighter as Gram stitched tighter the first baseball uni you
Wore, a suit endowed with hustle in honor of the player you both adored.
Big league scouts got a “Fairview” of your clouts, but busted knees
And strikeouts clouded the vision of them all except one cagey fellow,
The sagacious Lucadello, who remained watching from rooftops and the trees.
When it was time to leave behind old Dayton haunts like your Dad’s Drive-In,
You sprinted east to Athens to walk on for Bobcat coach Bob Wren.
After conference firsts, a Series berth, and a spot on the All-American team,
You proved your worth and in the draft fulfilled your childhood dream.
In your bush league stint, before the ‘stache, you made progress true and
Steady, but your rookie year in last place showed the Phillies still weren’t ready. Regardless, Danny O. and Owens knew there was nothing much to lose
So they backed you ‘gainst the boo birds while you gamely paid your dues.
Their faith paid off the next year when you had the first of 12 All-Star
Seasons, and suddenly jaded fans in Philly for hope and charity had reason.
You found Donna W., a blessed treasure of a wife, but something still was
Missing ‘til you asked the Lord to guide your life. Year after year with mitt
And Slugger you set a torrid pace, yet the hated Reds and Dodgers always
Edged you in the race, until the winning recipe, compliments a la Rose,
Helped you, Boone, Tug, and Garry end the city’s October woes.
Your third MVP in ’86 and your 500 the following year punched your
Ticket for Hall of Fame honors and capped off a brilliant career. Mike,
You left with much to be proud of but nothing more important than this;
Every time you stepped on the diamond, you played for a higher purpose.