Gold Gloves—Part V: MLB 3B in Puerto Rico Winter Ball (Mike Schmidt—10-Time NL Gold Glove Winner at 3B, 1974 Caribbean Series Champ and 1995 Cooperstown Inductee)


Mike Schmidt

This is Part V in a series on Gold Gloves (GG) earned by MLB players who played winter ball in the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League. Six MLB 3B who played or managed in Puerto Rico have 21 Rawlings Gold Gloves (GG) between them: five American League (AL) and 16 National League (NL). This covers 1957-to-2018. In 1957, GG were awarded to nine total MLB players by position. From 1958-on, separate AL-NL recipients received this award. Frank Malzone—1957 Boston Red Sox—won the first GG at 3B.

The most GG won by a 3B is 16 by Brooks Robinson (1960-to-1975), followed by Mike Schmidt (10), Scott Rolen (eight) and four players with six apiece—Nolan Arenado, Buddy Bell, Eric Chavez and Robin Ventura. Ken Boyer, with five NL GG at 3B, managed the 1975-76 Ponce Lions in Puerto Rico. Other GG 3B with a Puerto Rico League connection were: Frank Malzone (1957-59 Boston Red Sox), Mike Schmidt (1976-1984 and 1986 Philadelphia Phillies), Terry Pendleton (1987 and 1989 Cardinals, plus 1992 Atlanta Braves), Wade Boggs (1994-95 New York Yankees) and Ken Caminiti (1996-98 San Diego Padres). Mike Lowell—with a 2005 GG for the Florida Marlins—was born in Puerto Rico, but never played winter ball there.  

Michael Jack Schmidt was born in Dayton, Ohio, September 27, 1949. His SABR bio has been assigned, but not published as of July 8, 2019. This blog will mainly focus on Schmidt’s 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons with the Caguas Criollos in Puerto Rico’s Winter League. Schmidt is one of 54 ex-MLB and Negro Leagues players, plus managers, broadcasters and umpires inducted in Cooperstown with a connection to the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, the official name of Puerto Rico’s Winter League since 2012.

I was a high school senior in Santurce, Puerto Rico, when Mike Schmidt played his first (1972-73) winter season with the Caguas Criollos. Schmidt was chosen to play for the “Imports” in the January 6, 1973 league All-Star game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, located in Hato Rey, six days after Roberto Clemente’s tragic death. Pregame ceremonies at this All-Star game were conducted in Clemente’s honor. A minute of silence was followed by placing a memorial wreath at the base of the right-field wall at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, named after Puerto Rico’s first MLB player, whose MLB career began with the 1942 Chicago Cubs, and who also died young—at age 35. Schmidt and his imported (Stateside and Cuban players) teammates and Native (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) players wore black arm bands. The game was played and Schmidt was named its MVP by virtue of his three RBIs in the 4-2 win for the imported players.

Schmidt, via written responses to questions I posed to him in 1991, affirmed “the extra Puerto Rico at-bats over the course of the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons did a lot for his big league career.” Schmidt only had one-and-a-half seasons of minor league baseball—Reading, Class AA in 1971 and Eugene, Class AAA, in 1972. Ed Bauta, a veteran RHP, was Schmidt’s 1972 teammate with Eugene. Bauta recalled “Schmidt was very serious, focused and kept to himself.” Bauta further noted that Schmidt played more games at 2B (76) than 3B (52); and his teammate also played a few games (five) at SS. Data confirm Bauta was also correct in Schmidt’s tendency to strike out a lot in the minors, since the future Hall of Famer fanned 66 times in 268 AB for Reading in 1971, followed by 145 strikeouts/436 AB for 1972 Eugene. Schmidt’s minor league

totals reflected a .263 BA, .373 OBP, .480 SLG and .853 OPS. His 177 hits, in 673 AB, included 30 doubles, seven triples, 34 HR and 122 RBIs, but 211 strikeouts to 114 walks.

The 1972-73 Caguas Criollos finished 38-32, seven games behind the 45-25 Santurce Crabbers. Ponce (38-33) claimed third after besting the 37-34 Arecibo Wolves in a one-game tie-breaker. San Juan (33-37) and Mayagüez (20-50) finished fifth and sixth, respectively. Schmidt played in 58 regular season games, delivering 47 hits—five doubles, one triple and nine HR—in 176 AB, for a .267 BA. He scored 31 runs; fanned 49 times; had 36 walks; one SF; stole two bases and two CS. His 1972-73 slash line was .267/.390/.460. He played 2B as well as 3B for the Criollos. Caguas teammates included catcher Bob Boone, Roger Freed, Mike Jorgensen, Félix Millán, Jerry Morales, Guillermo “Willie” Montañez, Fred “Habichuelita” Beene, Grant Jackson and Steve Rogers. Caguas lost their semi-final series to the Ponce Lions, four games to one. Schmidt went 0-for-14 with one RBI, three walks and five strikeouts. Ponce’s Rich “Goose” Gossage, a 2008 Cooperstown inductee, blanked Caguas in the semi-finals. Puerto Rico Sportswriters voted Santurce’s Ron Cey as the 1972-73 league All-Star 3B, after the regular season ended.

Schmidt’s 1973 season with the Philadelphia Phillies included a .196/.324/.373 slash line, with 18 HR and 52 RBIs. His 136 strikeouts in 367 AB resulted in a strikeout every 2.7 AB. He walked 62 times, but had a good SB/CS ratio of eight SB to two CS, eighty percent success rate. Some pundits were wondering if Schmidt might have a fairly short MLB career. He struck out 15 times in 34 AB when he first came up with the Phils in September 1972. Thus, his MLB totals through 1973 showed 151 strikeouts in 401 AB. Schmidt’s projected strikeouts at 550 AB would equal 207, assuming these same ratios for his 1972 and 1973 MLB seasons with Philadelphia.

Bobby Wine, one of four Phillies coaches in 1973, was sent to Puerto Rico by the Phillies, to manage the 1973-74 Criollos. They again finished second at 39-31, three games back of 42-28 Ponce. The 36-34 San Juan Senators came in third, followed by 35-36 Arecibo, managed by Jack McKeon, who inflicted a tie-breaking loss to Frank Robinson’s defending champion Santurce for fourth place. Mayagüez (25-45) came in last. Caguas was bolstered by OF Jay Johnstone, Jerry Morales and Otto Vélez; catchers Jim Essian and Gary Carter; Montañez (1B) and Millán-Pedro García (2B); SS Rudy Meoli; reserve OF Sixto Lezcano; and pitchers’ Eduardo Figueroa, Craig Swan, Eduardo “Volanta” Rodríguez, Jesús Hernaiz, John Montague, Bob Apodaca and others. Apodaca lived in the same building—located in the Condado section of Santurce—as did Caguas teammates Schmidt, Johnstone, Swan and Montague. By this time, many imported players rented cars, as opposed to going to away games on a team bus.

John Montague remembered 1973-74 as an exciting season for Caguas, with the team winning and everyone chipping in on and off the field. “It was a job, but a fun job,” Montague exclaimed. “Craig Swan, myself and [Mike] Schmidt played tennis for an hour earlier in the day. I really liked the rice and beans.” Apodaca’s working vacation paid dividends, since he impressed Yogi Berra—the 1974 New York Mets manager—with 18 scoreless innings the following spring. Two decades after pitching for Caguas, Apodaca affirmed it was the turning point in his career. “It was up to the [North] American players who went down there to make sure they took it serious and not just as a vacation,” claimed Apodaca. “You know, make some money, and be in Puerto Rico where it was nice and warm. You had to go down to reestablish yourself in Puerto Rico.”

Mike Schmidt did exactly this from October 1973 through the February 1974 Caribbean Series in Hermosillo, Mexico. He put 59 more regular season games on his résumé, plus another five semi-final and six final series contests, in addition to six valuable Caribbean Series games. Schmidt cracked 12 homers, had 28 RBIs and scored 41 runs during the regular season, with a .242/.357/.460 slash line. His 73 strikeouts were a concern, but he walked 39 times, stole 11 bases and was caught stealing three times. He also had two sacrifice hits. Schmidt homered once in the semi-finals versus the San Juan Senators, managed by Jim “Junior” Gilliam. Schmidt went four for 17 against San Juan pitchers, including Tom Hilgendorf, Julio Navarro, Orlando Peña, Carlín Velásquez and Tom Walker (father of current Miami Marlins player Neil Walker). Then Schmidt had a fine final series versus Ponce: six hits/19 AB, .316/.435/.632 slash line and 1.067 OPS. Schmidt drove in seven runs with his six hits, among them a double, triple and a HR.

Island sportswriters voted Schmidt (3B) and Jerry Morales to the league’s All-Star squad, at the conclusion of 1973-74. Schmidt’s 12 HR placed him third behind Arecibo’s Benigno “Benny” Ayala and Jerry Morales, who both hit 14. “Hey, don’t forget I hit 14 homers for the 1973-74 [Caguas] club as a leadoff hitter,” noted Jerry Morales. “That was tops on the team and I don’t think any leadoff hitter in league history has hit so many.”  What Caguas lacked in team speed, they made up for it with power and clutch hitting. The league’s top five base stealers were Larry Lintz (25 for Ponce); Mickey Rivers (20 for Santurce); José “Cheo” Cruz (17 for Ponce); Lee Lacy (14 for San Juan); and José Mangual (13 for Arecibo).

Eduardo Figueroa (10-3) tied Ponce’s Ernie McAnally and San Juan’s Tom Walker for most wins. Arecibo’s Ken Wright had nine wins, the same total as Hilgendorf of San Juan. Ponce’s Steve Blateric earned a league-best 12 saves, followed by Don DeMola (Caguas) with nine. Ken Wright (147) and Lynn McGlothen (102 for Arecibo) were one-two in strikeouts. Ed Figueroa defeated Ponce twice, in the league finals. It was the first time Caguas played Ponce in the finals since their epic 1946-47 series, known as “La Serie de los Lechones” (Roasted Pork Series). Ponce, under manager George Scales, came back from a three games-to-none deficit to win that 1946-47 Roasted Pork Series, one where Caguas celebrated too early.

Otto Vélez called the 1973-74 Caguas Criollos the best [Puerto Rico] league team he ever played on. “There was no envy on that team, though there were many who could really play. Gary Carter [a 2003 Cooperstown Inductee] wanted to become a better player, Schmidt had to overcome a season with a lot of strikeouts.”

Héctor Barea, Public Relations official with Caguas, remembered that Schmidt and Johnstone played chess on the flight to Mexico City, prior to catching a connecting one to Hermosillo, for the Caribbean Series against the defending champion Licey Tigers of the Dominican Republic, managed by Tom Lasorda; Ciudad Obregón Yaquis and Mazatlán Venados (Deer). Venezuela did not participate due to their league’s labor relations issues. The Criollos stayed at the Valle Grande Hotel in Hermosillo. They reinforced themselves with relievers Steve Blateric and Santurce’s Ramón “Mon” Hernández, to strengthen their bullpen.

Caguas, playing as the home team, opened against Obregón, on February 1, 1974. The Criollos scored two first-inning runs, and withstood a seventh inning HR by Héctor Espino, for a 2-1 win.  

Craig Swan got the win and Mon Hernández saved it. Ed Bauta pitched 7.2 scoreless innings in relief versus Caguas to keep it close. He also enjoyed drinking with teammate Espino during that Series. “Héctor was my Hermosillo roommate,” Bauta said. “He drank a lot, but was a tremendous hitter. I was drunk before and after each of the [1974] Caribbean Series games.”

Licey’s Pedro Borbón defeated Caguas, 2-1, on February 2, with help from Charlie Hough. DeMola took the loss and Gary Carter homered for Caguas. Game three, on February 3, was key for Caguas—John Montague earned a 2-1 win over Mazatlán, bolstered by Blateric’s save. In the earlier game that day, Ed Bauta went the distance in a 5-1 victory over Licey. After giving up a run and three hits in the first inning, Bauta only allowed a Bill Buckner single the rest of the way. Licey was in trouble the next day (February 4) when they fell to Caguas, 6-3, on HR by Jerry Morales and Rudy Meoli and the pitching of Jesús Hernaiz and Blateric. Caguas’ 4-1 win over Obregón on February 5, clinched the Caribbean Series title for the Criollos, sporting a 4-1 W-L record. Volanta Rodríguez (1-0) got the win; Mon Hernández picked up his second save. Bobby Wine gave the baseball to rookie Guillermo “Willie” Hernández on February 6, and the LHP gave up a ninth inning run in Mazatlán’s 1-0 victory. Bauta also pitched in relief versus Licey, February 6.

Final February 1-6, 1974 Caribbean Series standings were:

  • Caguas, Puerto Rico              4-2, .667
  • Licey, Dominican Republic   3-3, .500
  • Ciudad Obregón, Mexico      3-3, .500
  • Mazatlán, Mexico                  2-4, .333

Schmidt did not make the Series All-Star team at 3B. Obregón’s Celerino Sánchez was the All-Star 3B, with a series-best 11 RBIs! Héctor Espino, the series MVP, led all hitters with a .429 BA and was named All-Star 1B. Other All-Stars were catcher Gary Carter, 2B Jorge Orta (Obregón), SS Rudy Meoli, LF Jesús Alou (Licey), CF César Gerónimo (Licey), RF Tom Paciorek (Licey), RHP Ed Bauta (Obregón), LHP Mon Hernández and Manager—Bobby Wine.

Héctor Barea, in his 1997 book Historia de los Criollos, put Schmidt at 3B on his 1970s Caguas team of the decade. It included: Gary Carter (.261 BA), 1973-74, and John Wockenfuss (.278 BA), 1976-77, catching; Nate Colbert (16 HR), 1969-70, and Montañez (15 HR), 1971-72, 1B; Millán (league-leading .345 BA), 1969-70, 2B; Schmidt (12 HR), 1973-74, 3B; Julio César González (.337 BA), 1976-77, SS; five OF—Cheo Cruz (league-leading .370 BA), 1978-79; Sixto Lezcano (league-leading .366 BA), 1976-77; Jay Johnstone (.345 BA), 1974-75; Jerry Morales (14 HR), 1973-74; and Bob Oliver (15 HR), 1970-71. Pitchers were Eduardo Figueroa (10-3), 1973-74; Scott McGregor (8-2), 1977-78; and Volanta Rodríguez (9-3), 1976-77. Dennis Martínez, in my view, also deserves to be on this team. He won eight games in 1976-77; defeated Mayagüez and Jack Morris [2018 Cooperstown Inductee], 10-3, in game seven, 1978-79 finals.

Schmidt’s two-season Puerto Rico career included 117 regular season games, 387 AB, 72 runs, 98 hits, 13 doubles, two triples, 21 HR, 52 RBIs, 122 strikeouts, 75 walks, 13 SB, 5 CS, one SF and two SH. He had a .253/.372/.460 slash line and .832 OPS; MVP of January 6, 1973 league All-Star Game; 3B on league 1973-74 All-Star team; a February 1974 Caribbean Series champ.

The 3x NL MVP (1980, 1981 and 1986) was a 12x NL All-Star (1974, 76-77, 1979-84, 1986-87, 1989).  He earned six Silver Slugger Awards (1980-84, 86) and his 10 GG were from 1976-84 and 1986. The 8x NL HR champ won those titles in 1974-76, 1980-81, 1983-84 and 1986. He led the NL in walks and strikeouts 4x; OBP 3x (1981-83); SLG 5x (1974, 1981-83, 1986); OPS 5x; TB 3x; and HBP 1x, with 11 in 1976. Schmidt’s MLB slash line was .267/.380/.527, with a .908 OPS. He played in 2,404 games with 10,062 plate appearances; scored 1,506 runs; drove in 1,595; collected 2,234 hits—408 doubles, 59 triples and 548 HR—in 8,352 AB. Fielding-wise, Schmidt played 2,212 games at 3B, with 6,949 chances, 1,591 putouts, 5,045 assists, 313 errors and 450 double plays. His NL fielding PCT at 3B was .955. He led the NL in double plays turned as 3B six times—1978-80; 1982-83; and 1987. Schmidt had a .278 BA in 10 MLB All-Star games (five hits/18 AB), with two doubles, one triple, a 1981 HR and three RBIs. His MLB All-Star Game slash line was .278/.381/.667, with a 1.048 OPS. Schmidt’s entire 18-year MLB career was with the Philadelphia Phillies, from 1972 to 1989.

Schmidt, MVP of the 1980 World Series versus Kansas City, had a .381/.462/.714 slash line and a 1.176 OPS against the 1980 Royals. He was inducted in Cooperstown in 1995, along with Leon Day from the Negro Leagues; Richie Ashburn from 1950s; Vic Willis from 1900s; and from the 19th century, William Hulbert, founder and second president of the National League. Schmidt furnished some thoughts on the challenge of playing 3B, and the fact only 17 primarily 3B have been inducted in Cooperstown, per this January 25, 2018 New York Times article. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/sports/baseball/hall-of-fame-chipper-jones.html.

Mike Schmidt ranks 13th all-time in percent of Cooperstown Hall of Fame votes: 96.52 percent, 444 affirmative votes out of 460 voters. Top twenty include: Mariano Rivera-100.0 percent, 2019; Ken Griffey Jr.-99.32 percent, 2016; Tom Seaver-98.84 percent, 1992; Nolan Ryan-98.79 percent, 1999; Cal Ripken Jr.-98.53 percent, 2007; Ty Cobb-98.23 percent, 1936; George Brett-98.19 percent, 1999; Hank Aaron-97.83 percent, 1982; Tony Gwynn-97.61 percent, 2007; Randy Johnson-97.27 percent, 2015; Greg Maddux-97.2 percent, 2014; Chipper Jones-97.16 percent, 2018; Schmidt-96.52 percent, 1995; Johnny Bench-96.42 percent, 1989; Steve Carlton-95.82 percent, 1994; Babe Ruth/Honus Wagner-95.13 percent each, 1936; Rickey Henderson-94.81 percent, 2009; Willie Mays-94.68 percent, 1979; and Carl Yastrzemski-94.63 percent, 1989.

Here are some of Mike Schmidt’s hitting and defense rankings in Philadelphia Phillies history, per https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/PHI/leaders_bat.shtml:

  • First in WAR Position players—106.8
  • First in Defensive WAR—18.4
  • First in Games Played—2,404
  • Second in AB—8,352 (Jimmy Rollins had 8,628)
  • Second in Hits—2,234 (Rollins had 2,306)
  • First in Total Bases—4,404
  • Fourth in SLG PCT– 527
  • Sixth in OPS–.908
  • First in RBIs—1,595
  • Sixth in Singles—1,219
  • Third in Doubles—408 (behind Rollins-479 and Ed Delahanty-442)
  • First in HR—548
  • Third in AB per HR—15.2 (Jim Thome-13.3, Ryan Howard-14.9)
  • First in Extra Base Hits—1,105
  • First in Times on Base—3,820
  • First in Walks—1,507
  • First in Strikeouts—1,883
  • Third in Double Plays Grounded Into—156
  • Fourth in HBP—79
  • Fourth in CS—92

Mike Schmidt had a remarkable Hall of Fame career, one which Puerto Rico played an important role in. With thanks to Jorge Colón Delgado for furnishing Schmidt’s Puerto Rico hitting stats and to Ed Bauta for his insights on Schmidt’s 1972 season with the Eugene Emeralds, plus recollections of the 1974 Caribbean Series.

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