Ryan Howard already has one MVP Award to his name and it's likely that he'll have more by the time all is said and done. Chase Utley could be next in line for an MVP honor, conceivably giving the Phillies three straight seasons with the league's Most Valuable Player in their clubhouse. Howard and Utley are the future of the Phillies franchise and both have the ability to do amazing things on the baseball field. As amazing as they are, their accomplishments pale in comparison to one Phillie; Michael Jack Schmidt. Young fans who might not have seen Schmidt play, get ready for some enlightenment. For those among us who were privileged to see the Hall of Famer in his prime, get ready for a trip down memory lane.
Schmidt was drafted exactly 30 years before Ryan Howard and was taken three round higher than the big first baseman, going in the second round of the 1971 Draft, while Howard lasted until the fifth round of the 2001 Draft. As Howard was being drafted, Utley, who had been taken in the first round a year earlier, was starting to make his mark in the Phillies system. For Schmidt and Utley, there was enormous pressure since the Phillies had used such high picks on them and they were expected to produce. Personality wise though, the two were - and still are - very different animals. While Schmidt was an awesome player, his personality actually turned some fans and teammates off at times, since he knew just how good he was and wasn't afraid to let anyone know. Utley was the one who kept his feet planted firmly on the ground and didn't care to do much talking about himself away from the field. As you watched either of them, there were plenty of reasons to be excited. For both, there would be no long, tough trip through the minors, as Schmidt made it to Philadelphia in September of 1972 and Utley was there to start the 2003 season.
Both Schmidt and Utley struggled in their early days in Philadelphia. For Schmidt, the struggle lasted through the 1973 season and had it not been for manager Danny Ozark, his stay in Philly might have been interrupted. It was Ozark who insisted that Schmidt not be sent back to the minors. The quiet mentor saw the struggles as being good for Schmidt and as a way of humbling the future superstar. It didn't hurt too, that Ozark believed that ultimately, Schmidt would in fact become the type of player that Philadelphia had been waiting for. Besides, on a team that would finish 20 games under .500 that season, carrying Schmidt along for the ride wasn't really hurting anything. Utley didn't have that advantage. The Phillies were competitive and Utley wasn't going to be allowed to bring them down, so he was shielded. The Phillies won 86 games in both 2003 and 2004, but Utley contributed just 15 home runs and a .257 average in just over 400 at bats over those two seasons. Of course, those numbers were impressive when put up against Schmidt's .197 average in exactly the same number of at bats (401). Of course, Schmidt did take an early lead in home runs with 19 shots over his first two seasons. After those first 401 at bats, both players started to settle in. Schmidt started to establish himself, hitting 36 home runs and posting a .282 average in 1974 on his way to his first of 11 All-Star Game appearances. Partly because of Schmidt's uprising, the Phillies finished just two games under the .500 mark in 1974, winning 70 games. Utley's third season saw him hit 28 home runs and bat .291 for the 2005 Phillies, who wound up winning 88 games to finish second in the NL East.
While Howard wasn't greeted with the fanfare that Schmidt and Utley were on Draft Day, he made his own fanfare when he hit the minors. One year in short-season ball started his progress and from there, he started to gain momentum and became the type of player that urban myths are created from. Playing at Reading in 2004, Howard truly got fans, writers and anyone who follows the game talking when he launched a ball literally out of FirstEnergy Stadium. Having done something that neither Schmidt nor Utley had done, Howard was squarely on the map as one of the big guns to watch out for in the future of the Philadelphia Phillies. As Utley was fighting his way through the 2004 season, Howard arrived on the scene in Philadelphia and quickly started to nudge Jim Thome out of the way. Unlike Schmidt and Utley, Howard didn't face growing pains. Instead, it was Howard who was putting the hurting on opponents and before long, it was Ryan Howard who put an end to Thome's time in Philadelphia. New GM Pat Gillick saw that there wouldn't be room for both and dealt Thome to the Chicago White Sox, officially opening the door for Howard. While the door has opened, the Phillies still haven't officially opened their wallet for Howard, although rumors of a long-term deal being negotiated are often heard wafting through the Philadelphia air. He need not worry. In his short career, Howard has already made over $1.2 million and Utley has already made nearly $6 million and has a long-term deal that will guarantee he goes well beyond those numbers. Not bad, considering that Mike Schmidt made about $10 million over his entire career.
So, with Utley and Howard established in Philadelphia, can either of them become the next Mike Schmidt? If you're speaking in terms of being potential Hall of Fame caliber players, possibly. If you're speaking in terms of matching what Schmidt did as a Phillie, not likely. Even with the numbers that the two young studs have produced, they're not often compared to Hall of Fame players, primarily because there's a long way to go between now and the end of their careers. Referring to Baseball Reference, Howard's numbers through age 27 compare closest to those of Tigers great Norm Cash. While Cash was a great player, he's not in the Hall of Fame, but it's likely that Howard will eclipse his 377 career home runs and he's already won an MVP Award, which Cash failed to do. Utley's numbers through age 28 compare closest to Carlton Fisk, who is in the Hall of Fame. Keep in mind that with almost 800 less at bats than Utley, Howard's comparisons are on a smaller sample size and are a little less reliable.
Chase Utley vs. Carlton Fisk through age 28
As for comparing to Schmidt, there's a long way for both players to go. If Howard were to play until age 40, he would have to average 35 home runs per season to reach Mike Schmidt's 548 career home runs. It's a very doable number for Howard, who has already hit 129 home runs. Utley would need to average 41 home runs per season and play until he's 40 years old to reach Schmidt. To reach the magical 500 mark, Utley would need 36.6 home runs per season, while Howard would need 30.9 per season. It's thought that 500 home runs generally gets you a pass to the Hall of Fame, but with the exploding home run numbers, you can't guarantee that 500 will remain the benchmark.
Chase Utley vs. Mike Schmidt through age 28
Take note of Mike Schmidt's stolen base numbers. It's unlikely that either Utley or Howard will reach equal Schmidt's career stolen base total of 174. There are a lot of fans who don't realize that Schmidt had above average speed early in his career and he stole 52 bases over two seasons. Of course, the game was different back then as stolen bases were more of a weapon that teams relied on.
Ryan Howard vs. Mike Schmidt through age 27
We could well be watching two potential Hall of Famers in action and it's not out of the question that Jimmy Rollins - who we'll look at some other time - could produce the type of numbers to gain him consideration. No matter what the outcome, fans in Philadelphia figure to have many more years to watch both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard pursue numbers that will eclipse many players, including possibly, some who are in the Hall of Fame.