Tim Kurkjian's Baseball Fix: The day Mike Schmidt realized it was time to go

Kurkjian reflects on anniversary of Mike Schmidt's retirement (1:48)

Tim Kurkjian looks back on Mike Schmidt and how his decision to retire was so sad to the people in baseball. (1:48)

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1989, Mike Schmidt retired.

Schmidt had played in 42 games that season, was tied for second in home runs (six) by National League third basemen at the time and was the active career leader in homers, RBIs, runs scored and total bases. But at age 39, his recent play had been unacceptable to him.

The full "On this date ..." archive

"We were on the bus, leaving [San Francisco's] Candlestick [Park] for the airport to fly to San Diego,'' said Bob Dernier, then a Phillies outfielder. "Mike was in the back of the bus with Chris James, Bedrock [Steve Bedrosian] and a few others. Mike looked at us and said, 'I think that's it, I'm done.' Chris James started bawling. He said, 'No, no, Mike, you can't!' Mike told me, 'I can't catch. I can't throw.' He was embarrassed about his defense. Defense was so important to him. He used to tell me that the All-Star team should be the Gold Glove team. He valued that more than anything, even when he was leading the league in home runs.''

Schmidt won 10 Gold Gloves; only Brooks Robinson (16) won more at third base. Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight times, which remains an NL record. He finished with 548 homers, most by a third baseman. His combination of power offensively and grace and skill defensively was breathtaking; indeed, he could play the piano and move it, too. Schmidt won three MVPs, including in back-to-back years, and finished third two other times. By most measures, he is the greatest third baseman ever.

And yet it was never enough for Schmidt; he was constantly fretting about his swing. Nearly 30 years after retirement, he told me, "When I was struggling, if you had told me that I should set up in the box with my back to the pitcher, I would have tried it.''

Schmidt was hitting .203 at the time he retired. So he accompanied the team to San Diego that night and officially announced his retirement the following day. It was so emotional. He broke down several times.

"As soon as Mike said he was done, Bedrock and I started planning the celebratory party,'' Dernier said. "We were going to get Harry [Kalas, the club's legendary play-by-play broadcaster] to speak, we were thinking about getting some Heinekens on ice. We had a great party. We were all so sad to see him go, but he had so much pride in his play, who was I to argue with that? I saw him do some amazing things. Mike was just mesmerizing.''

Other baseball notes for May 29

  • In 1981, Ellis Valentine was traded from the Expos to the Mets. In 1982, Valentine pointed his right pinkie finger in my face and said, "I have more talent in this finger than most players have in their entire body.''

  • In 2010, Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game. He won the NL Cy Young Award that year. He had a replica Cy Young made for his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, because, Halladay said, Ruiz had so much to do with his success.

  • In 1941, Joe DiMaggio struck out for the third time all year. He would finish the season with 30 homers, 13 strikeouts and a 56-game hitting streak. I wrote that stat 35 years ago, and a radio guy got a little mixed up, saying, "I just read the other day an amazing stat: In the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 homers, he struck out only 13 times.'' Yikes.