Mike Schmidt’s Miracle

Four home runs, eight RBI, and one miracle.

There’s a moment in every unforgettable season that marks the transition from an average year to one for the history books. It could be a significant performance, an incredible comeback against a rival, or an absurd winning streak. On April 17th, 1976, Mike Schmidt decided to make that transition all by himself.

From 1950 to 1975, the Philadelphia Phillies went to the playoffs once and were promptly swept by the DiMaggio’s Yankees. The team put up a .477 winning percentage for that quarter-century and finished dead last for seven of those seasons – they were in a funk that ultimately made the franchise the first professional team to lose 10,000 games.

But 1976 was going to change all of that.

Newly acquired pitcher Jim Katt had just put up two 20 game-winning seasons with the White Sox, staff ace Steve Carlton was in the middle of his Hall of Fame career, and a young Mike Schmidt was stepping into his prime years.

The previous season was the first time the Phillies pulled themselves over .500 since the mid-60s, and the re-tooled team had the talent to make a serious run. This was the time to turn the franchise around. But before they could win 100 in back-to-back seasons, culminating in a 1980 Championship, they had to prove themselves for 1976.

Despite all of the promise and excitement heading into the campaign for America’s bicentennial, the Phillies started flat. The team dropped two in a row to Willie Stargell and the Pirates then lost another against Gary Carter’s Expos.

Steve Carlton had an ERA over 10, and the star third baseman’s average was a minuscule .167, scuffling so much that manager Danny Ozark dropped him from third to sixth in the lineup. In the middle of the season going 1-3 would have been utterly normal, even expected, but starting off a campaign with so much excitement behind it, 1-3 might as well have been 1-30.


April 17th, 1976


There were 28,287 fans in the stands for day baseball at Wrigley Field and the home team did not disappoint. The Cubs jumped on Steve Carlton, knocking him out of the game after only one inning, scoring seven runs on seven hits.

The next two bullpen arms didn’t fare any better. Four merciless innings into the game and Philly fans could be excused for turning the game off with a score of 13-2. It looked like just another lost ballgame in a quarter-century full of them.

Dick Allen’s pep talk, enter here-ish

When the fifth inning finally came around, Mike Schmidt came up with a runner on for his third at-bat and unceremoniously dispatched his first home run of the game. 13-4.

The sixth inning went quietly for both clubs and it was another comfortable day for the Cub faithful. Come the seventh, Phillies still down nine runs, their bats finally woke up. One run scored off a triple to right field when Mike Schmidt stepped up again against pitcher Rick Reuschel. Schmidt demolished the pitch deep into the left-field bleachers for his second at-bat in a row. 13-7. One run already scored when Schmidt stepped up to the plate in the eighth.

Before the game began, with the third baseman struggling with his .167 average, he sought the sage advice of teammate Dick Allen. The seven-time all-star and former MVP gave the young star simple advice: “Have some fun and let [your] ability take care of the rest.” Schmidt gripped hit bat, and I like to think he smiled internally (the Hall of Famer was particular about when he grinned), then launched his third home run of the game, this time with two runners on. 13-12.

The miracle was afoot.

The Phillies managed to take the lead in the ninth before Tug McGraw gave up the tying runs in the bottom of the inning. Enter extra-innings Mike Schmidt.

To this point, no Major Leaguer had hit four home runs since Willie Mays, and no National Leaguer had hit four home runs in four consecutive at-bats since the 19th century. Dick Allen walked to begin the 10th, and Mike Schmidt, already with six RBIs in the game, came to the plate, “trying to get a single”  to get the go-ahead run to third. Maybe he tried having a little fun, too.

Schmidt unloaded on a fastball and put the Phillies on top for good, 18-15.

Mike Schmidt and the Phillies, behind his eight RBI and four home run day, completed the miracle after falling behind by 11 runs. The team as a whole produced the most club hits in a game since 1922 and Schmidt alone raised his average from .167 to .333 in this single game. Schmidt said, “When you get behind 13-2 like we did, most guys would have quit and thought about tomorrow, but it made me more relaxed and I started swinging away. I hear I set a modern-day NL record, and it’s kind of nice, but I’m one guy who doesn’t think about records.”

The middling Phillies of the early 70s then transformed. After that magical comeback, they bulldozed the league for 31 wins in 39 games and went on to finish with 101 wins, tops in the National League. Philadelphia ultimately fell to the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati, but they repeated the win total in 1977 – again falling in the NL Championship Series before finally winning the World Series in 1980.

Had the Phillies managed to make good of their regular season performances and morphed into a very possible dynasty, Mike Schmidt on April 17th would have been the ignition to launch the team into history. Instead, Schmidt simply says now, “I guess it was a case of being a little overdue.”

Mike Schmidt, for his part, would be “a little overdue” another 451 times in his career and finished with 548 total home runs on his way to Cooperstown. The Phillies would go on to win another Championship three decades later.

Photo by Manny Millan/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG

Brandon Riddle

Brandon is a former Little League All-Star whose child-like mind still believes Steve Finley is the greatest centerfielder of all time. Catch him on twitter talking into the void about outer space, adult beverages, and baseball.

One response to “Mike Schmidt’s Miracle”

  1. Myles Nelson says:

    I feel like there isn’t enough said about Mike Schmidt out there, despite being the consensus greatest 3B of all time. Loved this piece

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