Technology has made baseball a new game
Hall of Famer, Phillies legend Schmidt in awe of accessibility
Being a Major League Baseball fan today has its advantages. You can see your favorite players every day or night, whether it is during a live game over your mobile phone, during batting practice with MLB Network's Ballpark Cam or with a text video highlight someone is sharing in social media.
To Mike Schmidt, this is one of the biggest differences between his generation and today's players like Alex Rodriguez who is "basically a 24/7 movie star playing baseball." Schmidt's Hall of Fame career with the Phillies spanned from 1972-89, and over his 18 seasons, you had to work hard and have a little luck to see him or your favorite players unless you were at the game.
"When I was playing, you could only see me on a Saturday afternoon in Philly, or occasionally we got on a Monday night baseball game, or the Game of the Week on NBC," Schmidt said. "That's sort of one of the reasons why the era we are in now is so much different, separating itself from all the other eras in baseball. These players are literally on TV every night. Everything they do is captured on television. Even if it doesn't end up on television, it's captured.
"There are cameras everywhere. You literally almost have to feel like you are an actor or an entertainer as soon as you exit the clubhouse. You're on. There's no getting away with anything. That can provide its downside. There are some issues with that."
Every generation of Major League Baseball player could say the same thing to a degree, as MLB has led the way in a country's adoption of technology from radio to television to the Internet. But to Schmidt, the absence of anything resembling sanctuary is especially striking today.
"We used to be able to sneak out on the field and find solace on the baseball field," he said. "We could clown around. Go out in my underwear one time or something, you know? Go out and hit golf balls at 4:30. We used to be able to do things that you obviously can't do, or you can do, but it's going to be captured. And if you do it now, you're doing it because you want to be caught doing it.
"That all factors into the marketability of the game today and the pool of funds that are there now, available to the ownership and the game. We're basically talking about why A-Rod can make $25 million a year, right? That's why. He's in an era where he's basically a 24/7 movie star playing baseball."
This is coming from a living legend who is right there alongside the mass of fans who embrace technology. Schmidt is an MLB.TV subscriber who watches Phillies games live over his MLB.com At Bat app on an iPhone and iPod. During his visit to the MLB Fan Cave in New York on Monday along with fellow Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Ozzie Smith -- all of whom were promoting the launch of the new Pepsi Max TV and online advertising campaign -- Schmidt pulled out his iPhone, launched At Bat and tapped an icon to watch Boston's early Patriots' Day game against Toronto.
Later that night, he was scheduled to leave New York on a 7:30 ET flight, and he said he was planning to watch the first inning or two of the Phillies' game against the Brewers before takeoff. It has become a fact of life for the Jupiter, Fla., resident.
"I watch the Phillies wherever I can, and I try to find out about the teams they're playing," Schmidt said. "It's fantastic. I watch from my boat in the middle of the Bahamas somewhere. I can watch it in the airport. I can sit there and watch the game. I think, 'Can you believe I'm watching this game live on my phone?' I watched Roy Halladay's first no-hitter last year in Florida on my iPhone. I guess it's all part of the electronic world in which we live. It can only get better, actually."
MLB Network is in its third year. MLB Advanced Media over the past decade has grown into one of the largest producers of HD live video streaming for the web, powering more than 12,000 live events annually. During the season, it creates up to 500 new video assets every day, which include streams of live games, daily reports and in-progress highlights.
Include all other media and social networking, counting Twitter accounts for more than 100 players, and it is easier these days to find your favorite players, Schmidt said. But one thing he is also concerned about is the prospect of less face-to-face interaction between player and fan ahead.
"I might caution against the separation of the everyday fans," Schmidt said. "Now at certain times at certain parks, there is such a separation between the player and the fan, it's getting to a point that you can't interact with them. It used to be that a fan could come into the game, and Babe Ruth might rub little Joey's head. You can't get that close to the players today. Electronically is about the only way you can get close to a Major League Baseball player today.
"I worry about where the game is going 20 years from now, players becoming separated from the fans, not only in terms of at the field -- you can't get to them, you've got to get to them on your computer, Twitter, wherever -- but also that they move around so much. You can't get friendly. That worries me, too, that teams seldom have the same player, year in and year out."
Schmidt pointed out some other notable differences between today's game and his playing day.
He asked Smith, the Cardinals' legendary shortstop: "Ozzie, did you know they roll the infield three times a game now?"
It might not have mattered at their former homes featuring AstroTurf carpet, but it would have been welcomed many other places.
And maybe the most obvious difference: the expansion of pitching staffs with specialized relievers.
"That affects hitters, too," Schmidt said. "Today you face fresh arms, a lot of different guys you don't see very often. We used to see the starter in your third at-bat, sometimes in your fourth. Now you have guys who are specialists for the seventh, eighth and ninth. We saw a closer. How often do you see the starter face a hitter four times in a game?"
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.