Cooperstowners in Canada: Mike Schmidt

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Longtime Montreal Expos fans won’t be surprised to learn that Mike Schmidt belted his first major league home run against their beloved club.

To many of them, it seemed like the Phillies star never stopped hitting home runs off of Expos hurlers during his Hall of Fame career.

With the Expos leading 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning in a game at Veterans Stadium on September 16, 1972, a 22-year-old Schmidt walked to the plate to face left-hander Balor Moore, who hadn’t allowed a run in his past 25 innings.

There were two outs and Phillies second baseman Terry Harmon was on third and right fielder Roger Freed was on first when Schmidt clubbed a fastball from Moore over the wall for his first big league homer. That three-run blast was all the offence the Phillies would need, as they proceeded to defeat the Expos 3-1.

That four-bagger turned out to be an omen of things to come for Expos pitchers. Schmidt walloped 57 of his 548 career homers (15th most in big league history) off of Montreal hurlers.

But Expos fans will tell you the most devastating home run that Schmidt delivered against their team came on Saturday, October 4, 1980 at Olympic Stadium. The Expos entered that contest with an 89-71 record, trailing the Phillies by one game in the National East standings. If the Expos lost this game, the Phllies would clinch the division title.

Montreal held a 4-3 lead in the ninth, but left-hander Woodie Fryman allowed a game-tying RBI single to Bob Boone, so the two clubs went into extra innings. After Phllies leadoff hitter Pete Rose singled to open the 11th inning, Bake McBride fouled out to catcher Gary Carter, bringing Schmidt to the plate to face right-hander Stan Bahnsen, who was in his second inning of work. Schmidt would work the count to 2-0 before driving a fastball deep into the left-field stands for a two-run homer.

“Stan Bahnsen owned me that year,” Schmidt told authors Danny Gallagher and Bill Young in their fine 2005 book, Remembering the Montreal Expos. “He took me too lightly. After throwing two sliders for balls, he left a fastball over the plate and the rest is history. I’ll never forget that moment.”

The Expos went quietly in the bottom of the ninth, allowing Schmidt and the Phillies to clinch the division title in Canada. The Phillies went on to win the World Series.

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Of course, the Expos weren’t the only team that had troubles containing Schmidt during his 18-year big league career. The 12-time all-star topped the National League in home runs eight times, was named NL MVP three times (1980, 1981, 1986) and won six Silver Slugger Awards. He also captured 10 Gold Glove Awards for his fielding excellence and is widely considered the best all-around third baseman in major league history. For his efforts, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, his first year of eligibility.

But while the aforementioned home runs were two of Schmidt’s most memorable against the Expos, they weren’t his only connections to the Canadian club. Here’s a rundown of some of Schmidt’s other Expos/Canadian connections:

– Schmidt was selected in the second round (30th overall) of the 1971 MLB amateur draft. The Expos had two opportunities to choose him, but instead selected high school shortstop Condredge Holloway, who later became a CFL quarterback, with their first-round pick (fourth overall) and high school left-hander Dan Warthen with their second round (28th overall) pick. For the record, George Brett, another Hall of Fame third baseman, was selected 29th overall – one spot ahead of Schmidt – by the Kansas City Royals in that same draft.

– In 32 games at Jarry Park, Schmidt belted six homers and drove in 17 runs.

– In 96 contests at Olympic Stadium, Schmidt socked 26 homers and knocked in 70.

– For the most part, the Expos managed to contain Schmidt in the 1981 National League Division Series. The Phillies slugger was a quiet 4-for-16, with his two-run, first-inning home run off of Scott Sanderson in Game 4 being his only significant hit. The Expos walked Schmidt four times in the series that they won in five games.

– Schmidt was the starting third baseman in the 1982 All-Star Game played at Olympic Stadium. He was in the National League’s starting lineup along with four Expos: Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Steve Rogers. The Phils’ infielder hit cleanup, behind Dawson, who batted third, and ahead of Carter, who hit fifth.

– Surprisingly, the Hall of Fame third baseman had just two three-home run games in his career (Granted, he did have a four-home run game). Not surprisingly one of his three-homer performances came against the Expos at Olympic Stadium on June 14, 1987. In that contest, Schmidt homered against three different Expos pitchers: Larry Sorenson (three-run homer in the third inning), Curt Brown (solo homer in the sixth) and Randy St. Claire (two-run homer in the seventh). In all, Schmidt had six RBI in the Phllies’ 11-6 win.

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– The only Canadian teammate Schmidt had during his major league career was Edmonton, Alta., native Dave Shipanoff, who pitched 26 games in relief for the Phillies in 1985 and recorded a 3.22 ERA.

– Canadian pitching legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) faced Schmidt 25 times during his career. The good news for Jenkins was that Schmidt managed just four hits off of him. The bad news was that three of those hits were home runs.

– The only other Canadian pitcher that Schmidt faced during his big league career was Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland. The Canadian right-hander limited the legendary third baseman to two singles in eight at bats.

– From 1976 to 1984, Schmidt won nine consecutive National League Gold Glove Awards at third base. His streak was snapped in 1985 by 2014 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and longtime Expos third baseman Tim Wallach.

*I would strongly recommend “Remembering the Montreal Expos” by Bill Young and Danny Gallagher. You can purchase the book through the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s website here.

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