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Friday, 28 September 2007 18:49
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 Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt hit 548 home runs and was a 12-time All-Star before retiring in 1989. A three-time NL MVP, the third baseman was MVP of the 1980 World Series when the Phillies won their only championship.
By MIKE SCHMIDT
For The Associated Press
With all due respect to the great years by my friends George, Wade and Brooks, the greatest year ever by a third baseman will very soon be owned by Alex Rodriguez.
He'll eclipse my year in 1980 when we won the World Series, Brett's MVP and near-.400 year, and you can pick any one of several great years by Boggs and Robinson.
My regular season of 48 home runs and 122 RBIs looks rather minuscule in comparison, but project that into today's environment and it would be similar.
A-Rod winning a unanimous MVP is his next hurdle, and that should be no problem. The challenge ahead is his well-documented nemesis, as it was for me: the postseason.
In my case, the 1980 NL East race wasn't decided until the final series in Montreal. There was no wild-card fallback - you either were the best in the division or you went home.
For me, that was a career-defining series, the series that erased the ghosts of postseason past. You see, you can take all the regular season game-ending home runs, Gold Gloves and MVP awards, and they mean very little compared to success in the postseason.
For our Phillies, Montreal might as well have been the postseason. We had to win two of three at Olympic Stadium to win the division against Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Steve Rogers and company.
Long story short, with the pressure on, I went 6-for-11 with home runs that won the first two games. Of course, there was Tug McGraw closing each game, great performances by our starters, and Pete Rose, Larry Bowa, Bull, Boonie, Bake, Manny Trillo, Garry Maddox and others.
I mention my stats not to brag, but to make the point that those two games erased the ghosts of my past and established my ability to come through in the clutch. We failed in 1976, '77 and '78, and in each case I stunk it up as a hitter.
I carried that burden of postseason flops with me each year. It's the same burden A-Rod should erase this fall.
Get in enough postseason games and you'll eventually become comfortable. Ask Barry Bonds, who couldn't buy a hit in the postseason. Before he broke loose in 2002, Bonds was 19-for-97 (.196) with one home run and six RBIs in the playoffs.
There are always postseason flops, but when you're the star of the show, when the focus is you, people hold you to a higher standard. It's not enough to lead the team to the post season, it's can you finish the job? It's what you get paid the big bucks for! A-Rod, yes, super large bucks!
The last two weeks of a great season, in the fans' eyes, can define your year, maybe your career.
By the way, in 1980, this big year I'm referring to, I must mention I took a little snooze in the NL championship series. Del Unser, Trillo (1980 NLCS MVP) and the rest of the boys conquered Houston in the greatest playoff series ever, opening the door for my final hurdle, the 1980 Series MVP.
Remember 1977, the year Reggie hit three home runs in a World Series game against L.A. But Mr. October was benched in the deciding Game 5 of the ALCS in Kansas City.
In 1983, after hitting over .400 in the NLCS, I went 1-for-20 in the Series and my counterpart, Eddie Murray of the Orioles, hung right with me. Well, he did hit a couple bombs in the final game, but we both stunk the first four games.
There was no TV over-analysis of every second of the games back then. The hitting struggles of individuals weren't exposed as much as today.
We players knew who was struggling, especially if it was us, but our lowlights weren't on 50 different stations all day long, with dozens of former experts explaining the how and why of it.
``He's pulling his front shoulder out,'' or ``he's not as aggressive as he was during the season,'' or my favorite, ``he's trying to do too much''. All will be standard lines this fall. Oh yes, also include ``nice piece of hitting'' as standard.
Here's the real story on postseason pressure'' Most major league players treat every at bat, every pitch and every game like nothing else matters at that moment.
Winning the battle of who you're facing, the pitcher-hitter battle, is the ultimate in sports. It's our competitive nature, it's part of why we are in the highest league.
For some of us, though - and I include A-Rod and myself in this group - we sense and apply a greater importance to our role in the big games, in the more important series, in the postseason.
It would be better for us if we didn't, if we could treat them like games in April. The ol' ``big bucks'' theory applies again. When I played, I was the highest paid, I did feel the need to lead. Same with A-Rod today.
The problem comes when this sense of increased pressure affects your metabolism and your thinking process, and that increases your anxiety level. For someone like A-Rod, an intelligent hitter with a strong sense of ``feel,'' a small flaw in the stroke can become a big problem when the pressure is on.
Combine that with opposing pitchers grinding on every pitch to him, a couple key hard-hit outs, and announcers and fans waiting for him to give them a slight opening for criticism. Boom, 0-for-12!
That's how it happens - and it will to somebody this fall.
Like Tiger in golf, everyone is gunning for A-Rod. And he, like Tiger, knows it.
The reason we are infatuated with Tiger is that he, time and again, faces down immense pressure. We'd all love to know what's inside his head when he faces a putt to win the U.S. Open. We'd all love to know if he has a mantra, a good-luck charm, just what it is that allows him to flow when the situation exudes with tension.
This is what draws us to the great ones. They find the ability to laugh internally at pressure. Pete Rose was drawn to pressure.
In 1980, in the middle of an eighth-inning comeback against Nolan Ryan in the decisive Game 5 of the NLCS, Pete yelled at Ryan, ``you ain't getting me out, either.''
I heard it, I was there and Pete worked a walk. No way on God's green earth would I have done that. Yelling at the pitcher is just not done. Imagine doubling, tripling the pressure of that moment. The great ones want more pressure for some reason. The great ones have no fear of failing.
Much of my career I feared failure. I believe A-Rod did, too.
I've studied this because I wanted to be Rose or Derek Jeter, that kind of player. We all do.
I concluded that an athletes that was extremely gifted physically was better off with a blase or indifferent attitude concerning the public perception of him. Rose? Reggie? Gary Sheffield? Manny Ramirez? There are many more.
It helps to place little, if any, credence on what people think of you or what writers or the media are writing about you. To be impervious to pressure, you either have to be borderline ignorant, or totally secure with yourself as a person. You must have a plan of attack to combat the demons of pressure.
Alex Rodriguez wants to be liked. He cares about his image, the public's perception of him, and he wants to add adjectives like ``clutch'' and ``winner'' to his resume.
He wants to be perceived in the same way as Jeter, but he knows he has to earn it. You can't fault him for that. However, the correct approach is to let it evolve, let it come to you.
Derek Jeter didn't plan or force his quest for Mr. October status. He worked efficiently on each at bat, each ground ball, and made his presence known by doing the small things.
Keeping your focus on the little things allows the big ones to find you. This is great advice for all postseason combatants - especially one named A-Rod, who has one final hurdle.
 

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