500 Home Run Club
March 21, 2012 – On March 7, I conducted one of the most memorable interviews of my career.
A few hours before the Yankees took on the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida I interviewed Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt.
As I sat in the home dugout between Schmidt, who hit 548 career home runs and Jackson, who hit 563 home runs, I can honestly say that I took it all in.
The half-hour long interview brought out the best in both legends. While the mood was relaxed, the former players offered answers that were as luminous as their play once was.
At the start of the interview, I asked Jackson what made Schmidt one of the best players in history, and I asked Schmidt what made Jackson one of the all-time greats.
“The well roundedness of his game,” Jackson began. “When I think about players like George Brett, Brooks Robinson and Eddie Mathews, who had great careers, I still believe Mike is the best third baseman of all-time. Mike’s power, consistency and run production were second to none, and he always got big hits when it mattered the most. Mike won a championship, earned World Series MVP honors and led the league in home runs eight times.
“Mike and I came into the game together, and there were some high expectations on both of us,” Jackson continued. “We both lived up to those expectations, and we’ve been friends for a long time, which is pretty cool.”
“Reggie is the epitome of charisma and winning,” Schmidt added. “He always enjoyed the pressure of big games. One of the things I admired about him before we became friends was his ability to handle that pressure. There was something about Reggie in that he could always find the big hit when his team needed it. He was a winner from his days in Oakland through the years he spent with the Yankees, and it’s very special to have a such a great friendship with him now.”
A few minutes later, I asked Jackson to talk about Bob Sheppard, whose career as the Yankee Stadium public address announcer spanned more than 50 years, and who Mr. October once referred to as “The Voice of God.”
“Bob Sheppard had been at Yankee Stadium from the days of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle through the Derek Jeter era,” Jackson said. “That is an incredible tenure, and one that will never be duplicated. When fans walked into Yankee Stadium and heard, ‘Ladies and Gentleman, Welcome to Yankee Stadium,’ they felt a reverence for the ballpark. When Bob announced my name, it gave me the chills, and it was an honor for every ballplayer to hear their name get announced by him.”
I then asked Schmidt to discuss another iconic baseball voice, Philadelphia’s Harry Kalas, who I am proud to have once met, when I was an intern in the Phillies ticket office in 2000.
“Harry began his career at around the same time I broke into the big leagues,” Schmidt said. “Harry called just about every game of my career. I owe a great deal to him because he was the middleman between our fan base and me. Harry always painted a positive picture of me, and he always said good things about me in between innings.
“Of course, he also gave me the nickname, Michael Jack, which people in Philadelphia still call me,” Schmidt continued. “It’s fun to live through Harry’s voice, memories and the pictures he painted of my career. Like Bob Sheppard, Harry is a baseball legend.”
As Schmidt was answering my final question, Jim Thome of the Phillies arrived in the dugout and greeted Jackson. That moment was somewhat surreal as I was now in the presence of three members of the 500 Home Run Club. Between Thome, who has 604 home runs to his name, and Jackson and Schmidt, the men who had converged on the far side of the third base dugout had hit a combined 1,715 home runs.
The entire Q&A feature with will be published in the October issue of Yankees Magazine.
–Alfred Santasiere III