Looking back: Schmidt's four-homer game
Phillies broadcaster reflects on unique, historic experience
When you talk to baseball fans about ballparks they would like to visit, Wrigley Field in Chicago tops most lists. The beautiful ballpark, located in a neighborhood on the city's North Side, opened in 1916, four years after Fenway Park in Boston.
It was constructed in the style of the day, when ballparks were built on small parcels of land tucked away in major cities. The resulting irregular dimensions contributed to their unique personalities. And in the case of Wrigley Field, with its proximity to nearby Lake Michigan in one of the windiest cities in North America, the wind would become a factor in some of the sport's most memorable games.
April 17, 1976, was a windy day in Chicago. It was one of those days when the players look at the flags above the ballpark and the hitters can't wait for the game to begin, but the pitchers are hoping it's either not their day to start or they can spend a quiet day in the bullpen. Yes, it was blowing straight out.
The Phillies were playing their fifth game of the season, sporting a 1-3 record. The starters that breezy Saturday afternoon were the teams' aces, Rick Reuschel and Steve Carlton.
Loss No. 4 seemed likely when the Cubs jumped all over Carlton. Lefty survived the first inning, but the Cubs put up a seven-spot in the second, knocking him out of the game. They added five more in the third off Ron Scheuler and Gene Garber, and it appeared the rout was on.
Mike Schmidt, who was hitting sixth, started the day that would end with his assault on the record books innocently enough, with a fly ball to center fielder Rick Monday to lead off the second. He singled in his second at-bat leading off the fourth.
The Cubs were cruising, 13-2, when Schmidt hit a two-run homer in the fifth, but he was just warming up. He hit a solo shot in the seventh and his three-run blast in the eighth off Mike Garman incredibly brought the Phillies to within a run, 13-12. The Phils took a 15-13 lead in the ninth, but the Cubs tied it with two in the bottom of the inning.
And now, what had become a crazy day in this little ballpark became one of the most memorable of my 41 years with the club. In 1976, I was a year away from joining the broadcast team and was the traveling publicity man responsible for providing the stats and notes to the media.
We had several writers travel with the team. There were no mini-cams, live cut-ins, blogs or tweets. The score went out over a ticker provided by Western Union, and there was a substantial delay in the dissemination of news, quite unlike the immediacy of today.
Then it happened. In the 10th, Dick Allen walked and Schmidt, who would hit 50 career homers at Wrigley, did the unimaginable. He lined a bullet into the bleachers in left-center -- off Paul Reuschel, brother of Rick -- giving the Phillies a 17-15 lead.
There was one phone in the press box, and I think it had two buttons. The Cubs' publicity man had left to do some work in his office. Why? I have no idea! Thus it was left to me to grab a record book, because it was becoming pretty obvious by the phone calls that Mike had done something special.
Sure enough, he had become just the 10th player in Major League history to hit four home runs in a game. But it turned out he was only the second player in National League history to hit four consecutive home runs. The other occurrence came in 1894, and we soon learned about the career of Bobby Lowe of the Boston Beaneaters. In the American League, Lou Gehrig and Rocky Colavito had hit four consecutive homers, but Schmidt had blasted his way into history by becoming the first NL player in the modern era to perform such a rare accomplishment.
It had been an amazing day in a fun ballpark in a great city, and we all knew we had witnessed a performance that would be tough to duplicate. With their 18-16 decision, the Phillies were now 2-3 and on their way to a 101-win season, the NL East title and their first postseason appearance since 1950.
Three years later, the Phillies and Cubs had another historic slugfest at Wrigley Field. I was in the booth for that one. I'll have that story next month.
This story originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Phillies Magazine. Click here for subscription information.
Chris Wheeler is a contributor to MLB.com. Wheeler joined the club's public relations department in 1971 and was added to the broadcast team six years later, making him the dean of the Phillies' broadcasting team. He also authored a book about his Phillies career, "View From the Booth," which will be published in paperback this summer, featuring some new material. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.