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Mike Schmidt changed his own hitting approach, but can he change the Phillies'?

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It was August 15th, 1985. The Philadelphia Phillies were in the midst of what would be their first sub .500 season since 1974. Just two years removed from a World Series appearance, the glory days of yesteryear now seemed like an eternity ago.  Mike Schmidt photo: philliesphollowers.mlblogs.com

And in the midst of it all was Mike Schmidt, who was enduring one of the worst slumps of his career. Schmidt was prone to get into hitting droughts from time to time, but this season was particularly frustrating. For the first time since 1978, Schmidt failed to make the All-Star team, he was partially blamed by Phillies’ owner Bill Giles for the team’s slow start, and was moved from third base to first at the end of May in an effort to shake up the team.

However, the tides were about to turn for Schmidt, and he’d do it all in one at-bat.

It was an afternoon game at Shea Stadium and the Phillies were facing the Mets’ Dwight Gooden, who would win 24 games while eventually taking home the 1985 Cy Young Award. Prior to the game, Schmidt was tinkering with his swing during batting practice, opting to swing down on the ball, almost as if he was driving his bat into the ground. What Schmidt hoped for would be for less foul balls and more line drives.

Well sure enough, Schmidt carried this philosophy into the game and later crushed a Gooden pitch into right center field for a home run. And although Schmidt’s 1985 overall numbers didn’t quite match his stats from the previous season, it was an approach he took right into 1986, when he won his third National League MVP Award. It’s no secret that Schmidt became an all-around better hitter in the twilight of his career, often flirting with .300 while striking out less and maintaining his power numbers at the same time.

Fast forward now to 2012, where Schmidt is once again at Phillies Spring Training as a special instructor. He’s been there every March during the last decade for about a week or so. However, Phillies’ brass let Schmidt know that he was more than welcome to stick around a little longer this year, and for good reason.

It remains to be seen whether the Phillies’ pitching staff will duplicate their success of 2011, but the focus this spring is clearly on the team’s aging offense. All you need to do is look at Game 5 of last year’s NLDS against the Cardinals. It’s a game that’s been talked about all winter, due in large part to the team’s failure to manufacture runs and have productive at bats. And while strikeouts aren’t a major issue with this team (Ryan Howard was the team leader at 172 followed by the departed Raul Ibanez with 106), the Phillies need to be smarter with their overall situational hitting if they want to even sniff the World Series in 2012.

Chances are Schmidt isn’t going to tinker with the swings of Chase Utley and Hunter Pence like he did back in 1985. He’ll likely concentrate on in-game situations and being more aggressive in fastball counts. These are all things that can benefit this Phillies squad greatly. If Jimmy Rollins can have more productive at bats in the leadoff spot and Howard (when he returns) is more selective like he was in the early stages of his career, the Phillies will already be improved offensively. They scored the most runs in the national league during the season’s final three months. If the Phillies can adapt a smarter and more disciplined hitting approach, they could even squeeze out a few more wins over the course of the season as well as when it matters most: October.

With the exception of Placido Polanco (36), most of the Phillies’ starting lineup is younger than Schmidt was (35) when he made his adjustments. It’s not like it can’t be done, it just depends whether the 2012 Phillies are willing to listen and collectively decide to do the same.

They’ve got the greatest player in team history trying to help them make some changes, but the rest is up to them.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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 Photo: philliesphollowers.mlblogs.com