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Baseball : This Season, Schmidt Has to Earn His Keep With Phillies

The Dodgers’ successful pursuit of Eddie Murray foiled the possibility of Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt ending his Hall of Fame career playing first base in Los Angeles.

“I was very close (to signing) with both Cincinnati and the Dodgers,” Schmidt said of his free-agent status.

“There’s a difference, of course, between saying you’re very close and being ready to make a move, but I talked at length with (Dodger Manager) Tom Lasorda and I think we’d have gotten together if they hadn’t put the Murray deal together.”

“I also feel they made the right choice. Eddie is younger and, to some extent, healthier.”

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Schmidt, 39, is attempting to come back from Sept. 7 rotator cuff surgery.

Dr. James Andrews, who performed similar operations on Roger Clemens and Alan Trammell, among others, used an arthroscopic process that allowed Schmidt to begin a demanding rehabilitation regimen two weeks later.

Schmidt still has a small tear in that right shoulder, but he was hesitant to undergo more extensive surgery that might have eliminated the possibility of a 1989 comeback.

The Reds, like the Dodgers, wanted Schmidt to play first base and offered a $1-million guarantee.

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Schmidt, who made $2.25 million last year, decided to remain in Philadelphia and attempt his comeback at third base only when the cautious Phillies improved an offer based on Schmidt’s physical status.

He is guaranteed $500,000 and will receive $500,000 more if he is on the roster May 15, and $500,000 more if active Aug. 15.

He can be cut before May 15 only if he is physically unfit. If Schmidt disagrees with a team decision in that regard, a panel of three doctors will make the final determination.

He can also receive $300,000 based on games played and as much as $250,000 in award bonuses. The package carries a $2-million potential.

“It feels strange to have to earn your money,” Schmidt said with a laugh, remembering how it all used to be guaranteed.

Schmidt said he is at 100% efficiency in the batter’s box. In the field, he estimated it at 75% and said he was confident of peaking, as usual, in late spring.

His new manager, Nick Levya, has said that he would have to be convinced by March 15 that Schmidt has recovered enough to play a full season or he would begin considering his options, such as moving outfielder Chris James or outfielder-first baseman Von Hayes to third.

There is little chance of Schmidt moving to first, since the Phillies believe that the promising Ricky Jordan arrived to stay last year.

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Schmidt, who had 12 homers and 62 runs batted in before “wear and tear” eroded the rotator cuff and forced him out of last year’s lineup, said he thinks Levya is simply using spring rhetoric, though team management has definitely created the impression that the jury is out.

“I was the best player in the league and game for many years,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think I can come back to that level, but I do think I can still be a productive player.

“I understand that the organization (coming off 96 losses) is not able to be patient and wants good vibes to come out of this camp. I can’t say I blame them, but I would tell them, ‘Don’t worry about me. I feel good, I’m right on schedule. Just back me up.’ ”

Unfortunately, Schmidt said, he is not sensing that kind of support. He said some people are looking for him to fail so they can say, “See, we were right.” He said it’s almost comical how no one has come up to him and said, “You look great, you’re doing fine.”

Is he motivated by the skepticism?

“I wouldn’t mind if some people had egg on their face, but that’s not why I’m putting out this effort,” Schmidt said. “My sole goal at the end of the season is to be able to retire on my own terms, if that’s what I choose to do.

“I’ve had only two off seasons in 16 years and I’d like to make that two in 17. It wouldn’t look good to leave last year as the final line on my bubble gum card.

“I want at least one more good year. I’d love to be in position where they say, ‘Mike, we want you back.’ Then I can say, ‘Thanks, but I’m retiring.’

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“I also know I have 542 homers (seventh on the all-time list) and that another productive season would put me close to 600. I’d like to get to that position. Then it really would be a fun decision to have to make.”

Schmidt II: Discussing the negativity that has always seemed inherent in Philadelphia, Schmidt shook his head and said:

“It just seems like if you’re a writer there, or a fan there, you have to look for the negative.

“Maybe it’s in the air or how they’re raised. Maybe they have too many hoagies or too much cream cheese or too much of W.C. Fields.

“I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always been determined not to let it affect me or spoil what I’m trying to do.”

Bobby Joe Edmonds, a Seattle Seahawks kick returner, is trying out with the Phillies as an outfielder, doing a slight reversal on Bo Jackson’s two-sport status.

“As far as I’m concerned, Bo beat me to the punch--and the money,” he said.

Having already said that his New York Mets should dominate the National League East, Manager Davey Johnson put it another way the other day.

“We have so much talent that even if I make a mistake I’ll still probably be right,” Johnson said.

Dwight Gooden was first, getting $6.7 million for three years. Then Roger Clemens signed for $7.5 for three. Then Orel Hershiser got $7.9 for three.

What was Minnesota Twins left-hander Frank Viola’s reaction as he watched the market go crazy last winter?

“Those were three of the happiest days of my life,” Viola said at the Twins’ camp in Orlando, Fla. “Mr. Gooden, Mr. Clemens and Mr. Hershiser set the table for me.”

In other words, now it’s Viola’s turn. The 28-year-old pitcher has won 93 games in the last five years, more than anyone else. He won the American League’s Cy Young Award with a 24-7 record last year and is 41-17 over the last two seasons.

Set to receive $1.55 million in the second and last year of a $2.9-million contract he signed after being named most valuable player of the 1987 World Series, Viola should soon bump Gooden, Clemens and Hershiser down the salary ladder.

A New Yorker who went to St. John’s, Viola is expected to be courted by both the Yankees and Mets as a free agent at the end of the season.

The Twins are trying to eliminate that risk by discussing a renegotiation of Viola’s 1989 salary, plus a two-year extension.

Viola, however, is believed to be seeking $10 million for three years or $16 million for five, intimidating figures at a time when the Twins have two other key players--Kent Hrbek and Jeff Reardon--eligible for free agency when the season ends and a third, Kirby Puckett, already making $2 million and eligible for free agency a year later.

“I’m just coming into my prime,” Viola said. “I’m confident I would make the Twins or some other team happy.

“I’ve learned not to worry about things I have no control over, and my work habits are good. In the next five to seven years, I’ll be able to take advantage of everything I’ve learned.”

The Dodgers’ concern over Kirk Gibson’s right knee is mirrored in the Houston Astros’ camp by concern over the right knee of second baseman Bill Doran, who had arthroscopic surgery Wednesday.

Doran is expected to be back within a week, but the chronic condition has sidelined him in the past and the Astros are reportedly close to a precautionary deal for Minnesota second baseman Steve Lombardozzi, who lost his starting job when the Twins traded for Wally Backman, prompting Lombardozzi to request a trade.

The Cleveland Indians are also said to be interested in Lombardozzi.

There may not be enough seating in the Baltimore Orioles’ family section if Jose Mesa and Jose Bautista make the pitching staff. Mesa has 24 brothers and sisters, Bautista has 15.

Scouts are saying that the Grapefruit League sleeper may be Nick Castaneda, 26, a first baseman-designated hitter with the Kansas City Royals, who was a catcher at San Pedro High.

Castaneda spent five mediocre years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, then came alive in the Mexican League. Last year, with Yucatan, he hit .374. In 1986, for the same team, he hit .412 with 53 homers and 147 RBIs.


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