Schmidt skeptical about Braun's innocence

Mike Schmidt sounded skeptical about the ruling over Ryan Braun's recent successful appeal. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It has become an annual ritual here in spring training.

Mike Schmidt arrives in camp as a guest instructor and entertains questions from the Philadelphia-area media.

The answers always cover a variety of topics and never fail to entertain.

Perhaps his most interesting answer during Monday morning's session at Bright House Field revolved around National League MVP Ryan Braun's recent successful appeal of a 50-game suspension for using a banned substance.

Schmidt, a three-time N.L. MVP during his Hall of Fame career with the Phillies, admitted he liked the Milwaukee left fielder but also sounded skeptical about the ruling that came down Friday from arbitrator Shyam Das.

"Good lawyering," Schmidt said. "I don’t know that innocence or guilt has been established at this point in time. I surely would like to believe in innocence because Ryan Braun is a good kid from my perspective. We worked together in the World Baseball Classic and I got to know him. I surely hope that everything he says about it not being true is the truth. But just the fact that he was exonerated does not mean that they’ve gotten to the truth, unfortunately."

Schmidt said he'll be spending more time in Phillies camp this year than he has in previous years and he also has a more defined role. Leading into spring training, manager Charlie Manuel often mentioned the names of Schmidt and triple-A manager Ryne Sandberg as two Hall of Famers who could help the Phillies' hitters.

"The intentions were to be here through the middle of the month, but I might be here even longer than that," Schmidt said. "They asked me to be a little more involved than I have in the past with hitting programs. I have been inovled in the past, but this year might be a little more one-on-one with guys just chatting more specifically about in-game hitting strategy.

"There will be times when I chat with guys about mechanics, but for the most part the additions I'm going to offer this year are in-game strategies like, 'Let's be more aggressive in fastball counts, let's be tougher to strike out, let's figure out a way to give up fewer at-bats.' "

Schmidt, 62, said he believes you can change the approach of veteran hitters.

"You can get a guy to think about his role and profession," Schmidt said. "You can get him to think about being great at it and get him to understand it takes applying your mind more to your craft. You can get a guy to change the way he goes about his pre-game work.

"I changed and I was very stubborn throughout my career. I was in my 14th year and made major change to my approach both mentally and physically. I became maybe the best hitter in my career in my last couple of years. Guys need to want to improve."

Schmidt, at the age of 36 and 37, did have two of the best seasons of his career. He batted .290 with a league-best .937 OPS the year he won his final MVP award in 1986 and followed that up with a .293 batting average -- the second best of his career -- while also hitting 35 home runs in 1987.

Though he wasn't in attendance at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies' Game 5 division series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals left Schmidt "dumbfounded."

"I stared at that TV for a half hour after it was over," Schmidt said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing -- just like a lot of the fans in the stands, staring down at the field. I guess that's why they play them."

Despite that loss, Schmidt said he still considered the Phillies the best team in baseball last season and he also ranks this current era of Phillies baseball ahead of his own era when the team won five division titles and the franchise's only other World Series title.

"In my estimation the Phillies won the regular season, they won the 162-game test, they were the best team in the National League over that period," Schmidt said. "They just lost the tournament. They lost the tournament to a hot team, sort of the team of destiny. And who knows what would have happened had they beat St. Louis? But Cliff Lee with a four-run lead in Game 2? I was looking in the Cardinals dugout on TV and it was like, 'Can we throw the towel in and get the heck out of here. We surrender.' That’s kind of the way it looked. And then the great game of baseball changed it."