- March 20, 1887
- 5' 9"
- 159 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-13-1916 with PIT
Walter Schmidt was such an excellent handler of pitchers and defensive catcher that 45 years after he last played for the Pirates, Pittsburgh fans honored him by naming him the franchise’s greatest backstop. Perhaps an even bigger tribute to the man’s playing abilities was that despite frequent hold-outs and mediocre hitting, Schmidt remained with the team until the late baseball age of 37.
Schmidt had little power as a hitter, collecting only 3 homeruns in a 10-year playing career, nine of which were spent with the Pirates. He did have a strong arm and was skilled at getting the best out of his battery mates and had few peers among National Leaguers when he donned his catching gear in the late teens and early twenties.
A native of California, Schmidt had spent brief time on the rosters of the Indians and Athletics in 1910 and 1911 but never appeared in a game. He was sold to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League and played there through 1915. Eligible to be drafted by a major league club, Schmidt was repeatedly considered, but under the rules of the time, a minor league franchise could lose only one player per season in the major league draft and Schmidt invariably lost out. In 1916, Schmidt, by all accounts a wise businessman, bought out his contract and signed with the Pirates. As a 29-year-old rookie with years of top minor league experience, Schmidt was well-polished defensively, but hit only .190 in 51 games. The next season, he backed up Bill Fischer and improved his hitting to a respectable-for-the-time .246.
Schmidt reclaimed his starting job the following year, but batted .238. His defensive skills gained him notoriety and he tied the Cubs Bill Killefer in games caught with 104. He finished off the teens by hitting .251 in 1919.
Schmidt’s offensive numbers improved with the league’s in 1920. He hit .277 and followed it up with a .282 mark in 1922. During this time, Schmidt became an almost annual holdout. It was reported that he had done well in real estate deals and had the luxury of not being forced to sell short his importance to the team. During an era when players had little leverage, Schmidt’s holdouts led to his name being mentioned almost annually in trade rumors.
The catcher was said to have several differences with manager George Gibson, himself a former standout behind the plate. There was talk that in 1921, Schmidt had openly criticized the manager’s field tactics and he wrote letters of Dreyfuss for making bad deals in cleaning house following the collapse of the team in 1921. Understanding the financial impact when Dreyfuss backed off his one year experiment of profit sharing with the players following a record-breaking attendance in 1921, Schmidt denounced the owner in print. He held out into July of 1922, but although his replacement, young Johnny Gooch hit well, the Pirate pitchers were off their 1921 performance and the Pirates were criticized for not having a proven player behind home plate. Gibson resigned and was replaced by Bill McKechnie who realized Schmidt’s value went beyond the box score and persuaded Dreyfuss to give in to Schmidt’s demands. The team played much better the rest of the season and Schmidt contributed well in all aspects of the game, hitting .329.
Despite another holdout in 1923, the veteran again supplanted Gooch to catch roughly 2/3 of the Pirate’s games. As evidence of the change in the way the game was played, Schmidt’s batting average was actually two points higher than it had been in 1917, but paled in comparison his current National League contemporaries Bubbles Hargrave (.333), Bob O”Farrell (.319), Butch Henline (.324) and Zack Taylor (.288).
The Pirates pitching continued to slump in 1923 costing the team a serious shot at the pennant. McKechnie coaxed Schmidt into signing early so that he would be on hand to help coach the staff which would be relying heavily on young pitchers in 1924. Youngsters such as Ray Kremer and Emil Yde responded beyond expectations, but Schmidt missed considerable time with injuries. He was released during the off season as the Pirates were unable to unload him when it was learned he was making a very respectable $12,000. He hooked on with the Cardinals for one season as a backup before the major leagues decided to permanently hold out against him.