It was late June in 1985 when a future Hall of Fame third baseman decided enough was enough. Arguably the greatest third baseman in the history of baseball was winding down his career playing first base and feeling woefully under-appreciated by the Phillies faithful. True – he was only hitting .237 with 9 home runs – but Michael Jack Schmidt helped bring the first World Series Championship to the Phillies in 1980 and brought them to the brink of another in 1983. But the Broad Street boo birds were on the war path in 1985 and Mike was in their crosshairs.
Earlier that week, the Phillies were finishing up a long road trip in Montreal when a local reporter asked Mike why he felt the Phillies’ faithful were so hard on him. Mike replied…
“I’ll tell you something about playing in Philadelphia. Whatever I’ve got in my career now, I would have had a great deal more if I played in Los Angeles or Chicago. You name a town, somewhere where they were just grateful to have me around”.
Mike went on to say that the Phillies fans were beyond hope and likened them to a “mob scene”! It seemed like Mike’s fractured relationship with Phillies fans would never mend. That was until the Power of Fun was injected by a journeyman reliever named Larry Anderson.
After Mike’s quote, the Phillies fans were up in arms. Sports talk radio was encouraging all red-blooded sports fans to buy tickets to the first home game back and boo Mike Schmidt. The clubhouse was a little bit tense when Larry Anderson walked up to Mike and dared him to wear a wig and sunglasses as he was introduced before the game. Larry, of course, was the clubhouse joker and he would be happy to lend the disguise for a soon to be historical moment in Philadelphia sports lore. “How much worse could it get?” Larry exclaimed. “Let’s have some fun!”
Just a few minutes later, as every fan at the Vet that night were readying themselves, Dan Baker – longtime stadium announcer – said: “Ladies and Gentleman here are your Philadelphia Phillies.” The boos started to rain down almost instantly. Mike purposely paused and let the rest of his infielders go first and finally he popped out of the dugout and did a slow “Schmitty” jog to first. As the Phanatic, I had a front row seat to see what happened next. Just like the fans I had to pause for a second to process what I was seeing. There was Michael Jack Schmidt standing at first back warming up in a long curly wig and dark sunglasses. The thundering boos seemed to melt away replaced first by a smattering of applause and then a full-blown standing ovation!
I believe this was the shift in the Philadelphia fan’s relationship with Mike. Today he has become a fan favorite and a valued broadcaster for the Phillies. When asked, he will refer to that decision as one of the best he made during his playing career. It was a brave decision but one that Larry Anderson knew would work. Nothing is more powerful than a bit of distracting fun!
The take away for all of us is to remember distracting fun is there for us, too. We need to be our own Larry Anderson when struggles become almost too much to bear and remind ourselves that fun is a powerful tool at the ready to defeat even the most difficult challenges.
Remember, you can practice your way to happy!