CLEARWATER, Fla. - Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt revealed Sunday that he had been diagnosed with stage-3 melanoma last summer. Though Schmidt said that he is now cancer-free, the melanoma forced him to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatments and surgery to remove his lymph nodes.
"I'm a lucky man," he said outside the team's training complex.
Schmidt, 64, who will join the Phillies' TV broadcast team on Comcast SportsNet for 13 Sunday home games this season, had noticed a discolored blotch of skin on his hand one day in August and, on the spur of the moment, decided to visit his dermatologist. During the examination, the doctor found a cancerous mole on Schmidt's back.
The diagnosis, Schmidt's recovery, and his desire to maintain his privacy led him not to participate as a special instructor with the Phillies this spring, as he had in years past. (He plans to return as an instructor next year, provided his health allows him to do so.) He experienced just one episode of nausea because of the chemotherapy, he said, but the treatments did leave his voice so raspy that it became difficult for him to talk.
His last infusion of chemotherapy was on Valentine's Day.
"I have no signs of melanoma in my body anywhere," he said. "It was kind of a rough road for two or three months there, but I'm out of it now."
Schmidt, a longtime Florida resident who lives in the West Palm Beach region, said that he has a family history of melanoma. His grandfather had contracted the disease, and though he did not die from it, the cancer caused him to lose one of his ears. Nevertheless, as Schmidt sat on a blue picnic bench near the Carpenter Complex practice field that bears his name, he flinched when he noticed the sun shining full on his face. The sun scares him, he said, and the illness forced him to confront both his advancing age and his mortality - an often-difficult process for an elite athlete.
"The older you get, the more you realize that as you're getting old, you're thankful you're a healthy man, but you still carry some sort of invincibility," he said. "If you have been through athletically what I and these guys here have, you really do feel a bit invincible. It's the best word I can use. I don't [feel invincible] anymore.
"I don't know whether normal's the right word. I've been in fusion and chemo centers sitting in a chair with a needle in my hand with people [who] are dying all around me. I hoped I would never see anything like that. It became normal for me for over a month to sit with these people who were further along with their cancer. I was usually the most fortunate person in the room."
Because of the illness and his disinterest in taking on the travel-heavy lifestyle of a full-time baseball broadcaster, Schmidt declined to pursue a more involved role with Comcast SportsNet. The network contacted him about a job last year after Chris Wheeler and Gary "Sarge" Matthews were dropped. Schmidt had spent the 1990 season as a Phillies color analyst on the now-defunct cable channel Prism, accepting that position less than a year after retiring.
"I just couldn't get excited about a ground-ball single up the middle," he said. "I mean, I could say it was good hitting, two strikes, he made contact, hit a ball up the middle, but guys wanted me to be more excited about little things. 'I spoke to so-and-so before the game. I was in the clubhouse. I was around the batting cage. We had a nice chat with the manager.' I was uncomfortable doing that. I had just retired. I didn't want to now start coming in my coat and tie and stand around and wait for somebody to talk to me. . . .
"The Sunday broadcasts are not going to be filled with information and stats. It's going to be more of an entertainment day. Who knows what's going to come up, but it's going to be a lot lighter."