It might have been the highest — and certainly the hardest — hit single in major-league history. In the first inning of a June 10, 1974, game at the Houston Astrodome, Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt stepped into a Claude Osteen fastball and sent it rocketing toward the center field seats.
To the 9,487 fans in attendance, the Houston broadcasting team and Astros center fielder Cesar Cedeno, it looked as if Schmidt had connected for a three-run homer. Instead, the ball hit the public address speaker hanging from the Astrodome roof, 117 feet above the playing field. The speaker was located 329 feet from home plate, and the ball fell into shallow center field for a single, sending Dave Cash to third base and Larry Bowa to second.
Schmidt, who would hit 548 career home runs, was robbed of a sure four-bagger in this game 42 years ago.
“I took one look and knew it was gone,” Cash said. “Then I took another look and there it was coming down in front of Cesar Cedeno.”
“I never saw a ball hit that far in my life,” Cedeno said.
Astros manager Preston Gomez went one step further. “It was the hardest hit ball I’d ever seen at the Astrodome,” he said.
It also was the first ball in Astrodome history to hit a speaker.
“I knew it was a good hit,” Schmidt said after the game. “Running to first base, I realized it hit something up there.
“I didn’t know what, but something.”
After the very confusing play, Bill Robinson followed Schmidt with a two-run double. That was plenty of run support for Phillies starter Jim Lonborg as Philadelphia coasted to a 12-0 victory. Schmidt connected for two more conventional singles and drove in three runs. But had the ball traveled unimpeded, it would have been Schmidt’s 15th homer of the 1974 season. As it turned out, Schmidt would lead the National League in home runs with 36 in ’74, and would lead the league seven more times before ending his 18-year career in 1989.
Schmidt also won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards and 10 Gold Glove Awards at third base.
By the way, the day after Schmidt’s hit, The Associated Press reported that Astrodome workers raised the speakers to 170 feet, basically pinning it to the stadium’s ceiling.
It’s a classic 1970s baseball story and conjures up images of an era when Schmidt was king of the long ball. Here’s a look at five fun Mike Schmidt cards from the early stages of his career, 1973 to 1976.
1973 Topps No. 615
Schmidt shares his rookie card with another future all-star, Dodgers third baseman Ron Cey. Schmidt and Cey flank San Diego Padres third baseman John Hilton, who actually was known by his middle name, David. Whatever you called him, Hilton did not last long in the majors, playing four years after being the Padres’ No. 1 draft pick in 1971. I am always fascinated by the player who shares a card with a Hall of Famer. After retiring, Hilton stayed in baseball and even managed the Sonoran Explorers of the independent Freedom League to a fourth-place finish in 2012. He currently runs the Arizona School of Baseball in Scottsdale.
Schmidt made it to two World Series with the Phillies in 1980 and ’83, winning a championship ring in 1980. Cey would play for the Dodgers and compete in four World Series for Los Angeles, earning a championship ring in 1981. Hilton was hospitalized with infectious hepatitis in 1975 after eating a seafood dinner at a restaurant. After bouncing around the minors for several years, Hilton played 2 ½ seasons in Japan with the Yakult Swallows and Hanshin, winning a title in his first season.
So I guess you could say all three of those third base rookies did well, in their own way.
There have been 5,548 Schmidt rookie cards submitted to PSA for grading, and there are only six gem mint cards. PSA-9s fare better, with 239 registered and graded. A total of 928 cards have been sent to SGC for grading, and none have attained the highest grade. However, there are 28 that have graded at 96.
Readily available on eBay, prices for respectable examples typically start at $100.
1974 Topps No. 283
This was the one kids were pulling from packs when Schmidt hit that “long single”. It was Schmidt’s first standalone Topps card, issued during the third baseman’s first breakout season, when he hit .282 with 36 homers and 116 RBIs. He’s pictured wearing the powder blue road uniform with a jacket underneath his jersey.
The ’74 Schmidt remains very affordable even in high grade and could be one to watch in the coming years.
The 1974 set marked the first time Topps released its entire set at once at the beginning of the year, rather than in series scattered throughout the summer. There were 660 cards in all.
1975 Kellogg’s No. 56
This 57-card set is one of the scarcer Kellogg’s sets issued during the 1970s, and Schmidt is part of a set that includes 13 Hall of Famers, one who would be a Hall of Famer if eligible (Pete Rose), one player who came close to induction (Dick Allen) and several players who were good enough to be considered on the Hall of Fame ballot (Hal McRae, Steve Garvey, Al Oliver and Bill Buckner, to name a few).
Watch out for cracks, which are common on some of those Kellogg’s cards, but you can still land one of these beauties for minimal investment.
1975 Hostess No. 133
What is it with Schmidt and jackets on his card photos?
The first of five annual issues, the 1975 Hostess set featured three card panels at the bottom of the box of the snack cakes. Schmidt shared a panel with fellow Hall of Famer Willie Stargell and Sparky Lyle, the 1977 American League Cy Young Award winner. As Hostess collectors know, the cards could be hand-cut into single cards, and the card backs were blank.
Prices vary whether you’re buying the single or entire panel but neither is expensive.
1976 MSA Discs
The Tampa, Florida, based company run by Mike Schechter cranked out a ton of these. The discs are 3 3/8 inches in diameter and looks like a baseball. There are baseball stitches on the left and right side of the “ball,” with the player’s likeness in the middle.
Isaly’s, Crane, Sweet William and other sponsors all used these as promotional tools and their ads can be found on the back with some more difficult to find than others. The sets were known for a high number of Hall of Famers but today, they remain plentiful and very, very cheap.
MSA produced this set under license by the Major League Players Association, but the team uniform and cap logos are airbrushed out of the photographs.