CLEARWATER, Fla. - Last month, Mike Schmidt made headlines when he candidly talked about Pat Burrell. Yesterday, the Hall of Fame third baseman sought to clarify, and, as a result, even more questions - and attention - were drawn to Burrell, who's emerged as one of the most popular topics in Phillies camp.
Can Schmidt help Burrell?
Does he want to help him?
Is there hope for the leftfielder?
Schmidt started this conversation in January when he told the Dayton Daily News that Burrell and the Reds' Adam Dunn "tick me off" because they strike out too much. "What they are doing now is not great, it is mediocrity," he said. Those words quickly found Burrell, and Burrell seemed more than just annoyed, most likely because Schmidt has criticized Burrell's approach to hitting in the past.
Schmidt arrived yesterday at Bright House Networks Field as a special instructor for the next 10 days. He met reporters with a piece of a paper in hand, a statement he had prepared to hopefully defuse the situation.
"My use of the term 'mediocre' was in poor taste, and I'm sorry if it offended," Schmidt read from the statement, "but it was not intended to label Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn or their accomplishments, but to point out that at some point, as a result of reducing strikeouts, their future accomplishments will make their past seem 'mediocre.' "
Burrell said after yesterday's workout that he had talked to Schmidt, and that "everything is fine. It's not a big deal."
Had he seen the statement?
"Yeah," he said.
"What is there to say?"
Not much. But it would be a decent bet that Schmidt and Burrell don't get dinner together this spring.
"The guy I identify with on this team is Pat," Schmidt said after reading his statement. "I don't know that Pat really feels that from me. We're not that close. In fact I tried calling him a couple of times. He didn't return my phone calls. Maybe I didn't use the right alias or something trying to get ahold of him. I've reached out. Maybe he doesn't want to accept. I root for him a lot. I see myself in him so much for a lot of reasons, approach to hitting, having to deal with strikeouts, wanting to do so bad in front of the Philly fans.
"I know he's the guy on the team that has to accept the brunt of the negativism at the Phillies ballpark now. I see that when I watch on TV. He's got a lot of pressure, and to have me commenting on him, to have this article come out, I'm sure he'll feel [this] will only add to that."
Interestingly, yesterday's statement is the second Schmidt has issued about Burrell after he made comments that bothered him.
He issued the first in 2003.
Schmidt struck out 1,883 times in his big-league career, seventh-most in baseball history. "I'm pretty well-versed on that subject," Schmidt said in the statement. But he also hit 548 home runs and won three National League MVP awards. He later said he never really learned to hit until late in his career, and thinks there is time for Burrell to change his approach.
"I literally became a really good hitter in '86 and '87," said Schmidt, whose 18-year career ended in 1989. "I was a dangerous hitter my whole career. Do you know anything about dangerous? They feared me. I accumulated a lot of league leading stats. But I always felt the other team wanted me up there. Does that make sense? And I didn't like that feeling. I just didn't feel complete. I wanted to be a complete hitter."
Burrell has struck out 1,017 times in his seven-year career with the Phillies, and is on pace to shatter Schmidt's strikeout total. But after the Phillies failed to trade him in the off-season or upgrade at left field as they had hoped, he is expected to open the season hitting fifth in the Phillies lineup behind NL MVP Ryan Howard.
It's unclear if Burrell will have any talks with Schmidt about hitting while Schmidt is in camp. Maybe it's unlikely. But manager Charlie Manuel and hitting coach Milt Thompson will be involved. And Manuel doesn't disagree with Schmidt, either, so that doesn't mean his message won't get across.
"I used to tell [Jim] Thome that he should strike out 70 to 90 times," Manuel said. "I agree with what Mike said."
But will Burrell be open to listening?
"I didn't want to talk about Pat Burrell, and I'm trying to say the right thing, he can be the guy," Schmidt said. "I can imagine how good the Phillies will be when he does becomes this guy."