Midway through the 2001 major-league baseball season, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded right-hander Jason Schmidt to the San Francisco Giants. Schmidt, who compiled a 49-53 record throughout the first six years of his career, would blossom into one of the elite pitchers in the National League during the mid-2000s.
Jason David Schmidt was born on January 29, 1973 in Lewiston, Idaho. When Schmidt was 5, his parents divorced, and his mother Vicki married Ray Schmidt, a machinist at a paper mill. Jason and his sister formed a bond with their stepfather through baseball. His stepdad bought him his first glove and stressed him on the importance of the fundamentals. “I told him to make me play catch whether I felt like it or not,” Schmidt said. “We’d go to the street, and he’d sit on a bucket we used to wash the car. He’d have me throw to him, and if I didn’t hit the glove, he wouldn’t budge. The ball would roll down the street and I had to go get it. My control got better fast.”1
While living in Washington State, he attended Kelso High School where played football and basketball in addition to baseball. In his senior year he tossed a no-hitter where he struck out 20 out of 23 batters he faced. Schmidt had a perfect game through five innings of work before he walked two batters in the sixth frame. “It was like everything was flowing together that game,” Schmidt said. But he admitted that the absence of professional scouts lend him the luxury of feeling comfortable on the mound. “I say they (the scouts) don’t bother me, but sometimes you feel like you can’t do certain things if they’re there,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes I throw a roundhouse curve and they don’t like to see that.”2
He was honored with Washington’s Gatorade State Player of the year award and All-State MVP in baseball. Schmidt was offered a scholarship from the University of Arizona, but chose to sign with the Atlanta Braves, who selected him in the eighth round of the 1991 amateur draft. Jason Schmidt made his debut with the Braves organization in 1991 as a member of the Gulf Coast Braves. He made 11 starts and finished the year with a 3-4 mark and a 2.38 ERA. He toiled through the farm system from 1992 to 1995. While working his up to through the minors, Schmidt made the habit of calling his mother on the way from the ballpark.
“It was my stress relief after a game,” he said. “Call my mom.”3
Schmidt made his major-league debut in a relief appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 28, 1995. On September 3, 1995, he made his big-league debut as a starter, replacing the injured Kent Mercker. Schmidt pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up six hits and striking out seven as the Braves topped the Cubs 2-0. “I thought I was dreaming out there,” he said. “It was the seventh inning and I had a shutout, and I’m thinking no way this could be happening.”4 Schmidt finished the year with a 2-2 record and a 5.76 ERA. He didn’t make a postseason appearance that year.
The following year, the promising Braves prospect was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a midseason trade that brought Denny Neagle to Atlanta. On September 23, 1996, Schmidt pitched his best game to date when he went the distance in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs, striking out 11 and walking none. “He has an outstanding arm, one of the better arms in the league,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I don’t think you’d want to do that [have him throw 137 pitches] on a consistent basis, but he was throwing 94 [miles per hour] in the ninth inning. He has a chance to be a good one.”5
And while Leyland lamented the notion of pushing a pitcher of Schmidt’s caliber to the limit, being the rotation’s workhouse would be a blessing and a curse throughout Schmidt’s major-league career.
Prior to the 1997 season, Jason Schmidt received news that almost put a dent to his big-league dreams. While spending time at his winter home, he began to experience lightheadedness. Medical tests revealed an irregular heartbeat. Schmidt was diagnosed with hypervagotonia, a condition that affects young, well-conditioned athletes. “I was obviously worried about this,” Schmidt said. “I mean I’m only 24 years old and you don’t think something like this can happen to you. All I kept thinking about was that I was getting married Nov. 1 and how my baseball career might be flashing in front of my eyes. It was a little scary (Tuesday) when one of the doctors asked me if one of the other doctors had mentioned a pacemaker to me. Then the doctor just said, “Forget I ever said that. ‘ Still, it made me think and it certainly makes me feel fortunate that I’m OK and everything is fine.”6
Nevertheless, he made his season debut on April 6, 1997 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched six innings, striking out three and walking three as the Pirates lost to the home team, 6-3. Schmidt pitched his best game on July 2 against the Chicago White Sox. He went the distance, striking out 10 and walking one in a 3-1 complete-game victory. Schmidt ended the year with a 10-9 record and a 4.60 ERA as the Pittsburgh Pirates finished second in the NL central division with a 79-83. The following season, he went 11-14 with a 4.07 ERA, losing five of his last six decisions to cap off a disappointing year.
In 1999, Schmidt ended the year with a 13-11 record and a 4.19 ERA. His most notable performance was on April 21 when he pitched eight innings and struck out 11 in a 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres. The following year he missed two weeks in April due to shoulder inflammation, which flared up again in June. During his second stint on the DL, the then 27-year old Schmidt was examined by the world-renowned Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama. “I want to get a total checkup from him,” Schmidt said Monday. “He’s the best in the business. I want him to look at it and see what he thinks. I want to find out what is wrong once and for all.” He eventually found himself under the knife to repair a partial fraying of the rotator cuff.7
Schmidt returned to the mound on May 11, 2001, securing a 3-0 victory against the Milwaukee Brewers. He went 6-6 with a 4.61 ERA with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants with John Vander Wal for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. The benefit to Schmidt was the opportunity to play for a team that had World Series aspirations. “That’s the No. 1 thing, a chance to be in the pennant race and the playoffs. That’s what you play for,” Schmidt said.8
In his first outing as a member of the San Francisco Giants, Jason Schmidt went up against the club that he had called home for the last six seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched seven strong innings, striking out eight and giving up one hit and one earned run as the Giants defeated the Pirates, 3-1. He finished 2001 strong with the Giants, compiling a 7-1 record with a 3.39 ERA. On December 18, he re-signed with the club as a free agent for a deal worth five years and $41 million. In his 2002 debut against the Chicago Cubs, Schmidt gave up four earned runs on seven hits in a 10-4 loss. But throughout the season, Schmidt displayed the dazzling potential befitting a number one starter. On June 8 in Yankee Stadium he struck out a career-high 13 in eight innings as the Giants, behind Barry Bonds’ first home run in the “house that Ruth built,” topped the Yankees 4-3. Eleven days later, he pitched a complete game shutout against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, striking out 11 and walking one as the Giants cruised to an 8-0 win. On July 28, he handcuffed the rival Los Angeles Dodgers for a 3-1 win behind 10 strikeouts. On August 20, Schmidt tied his career high in strikeouts as the Giants squeaked pass the New York Mets for a 1-0 win.
The San Francisco Giants finished the year with 95-66 record in the NL West — good enough to secure the wild card for the 2002 postseason run. In his first-ever playoff game, against the Atlanta Braves, Schmidt started strong but began to tire in the sixth when he walked three Braves in a row after striking out Julio Franco. He gave up four earned runs as the Braves cruised to a 10-2 win in game three of the NLDS. “They had their big heart of the lineup coming up there, so I just tried to be a little bit more careful to a couple of the guys,” said Schmidt who threw 104 pitches in 5 1/3 innings. “Looking back, I could have been a little more aggressive.”9
In his next postseason appearance, Jason Schmidt found better success as he stymied the St. Louis Cardinals in seven innings of work, striking out eight and giving up one earned run as the Giants dispatched St. Louis 4-1 in Game Two of the 2002 NLCS. “He was excellent,” Cardinal manager Tony La Russa said. “His control was excellent. His stuff was excellent. The couple times he got behind the count, the 2-0 or 3-1 pitch he made wasn’t backing off his good stuff and throwing the ball down the middle. He really, really pitched well.”10
The San Francisco Giants went on to capture their first NL flag since 1962. On October 19, 2002, Schmidt took the mound as the Giants starter in the first game of the 2002 World Series. He picked up the win, going five innings as the Giants beat the Anaheim Angels, 4-3. Five days later, Schmidt struck out eight in 4 ½ innings in a no-decision as the Giants thrashed the Angels 16-4 to put them one game away from winning their first World Series since 1951. However, the dreams of Giants fans were shattered as the club blew a 5-0 lead in Game Six and lost the decisive game 7, 4-1 as the Angels celebrated their first World Series title in franchise history.
Schmidt had finished the 2002 regular season with a 13-8 record and a 3.45 ERA. He struck out 196 and walked 76 batters. His WHIP of 1.192 was the lowest in his career up to that point.
His 2003 season was his break-out year.
In his 2003 debut, Schmidt picked up the win with a strong 7 ½ inning outing against the San Diego Padres for a 8-1 victory. At the end of April, he stifled the Cubs for a 5-0 shutout victory that included 12 strikeouts. On May 16, he tied his career high of 13 strikeouts in a 7-5 win over the New York Mets. On June 19, Schmidt pitched a gem against the rival Dodgers for a 2-0 win. On July 15, 2003, Schmidt started in his first All-Star Game going up against former teammate Esteban Loaiza of the Chicago White Sox. He pitched back-to-back gems against the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Padres towards the end of September. The San Francisco Giants finished 2003 with a 100-61 and a NL West division title. In Game One of the 2003 NLDS against the Florida Marlins, Jason Schmidt hindered the Marlins with a 2-0 shutout win to give the Giants a 1-0 advantage in the series.
It was the last win of 2003, as the Marlins won three straight to send the Giants home early for the winter.
Schmidt finished the 2003 regular season with a 17-5 record and a NL-leading 2.34 ERA. He struck out 208 and walked 46. He led the majors in WHIP with a 0.953 and tied for the major-league lead in shutouts with three. He finished second in the Cy Young Award voting behind Dodgers closer Eric Gagne.
When he was not mowing down hitters, he was often making teammates laugh with practical jokes. Behind his locker would be a highly sophisticated flatulence machine that would be used on rookies or callups to the big leagues. “I’ll hide it somewhere in his locker and wait for the reporters to ask, ‘How do you feel?” and then hit it,” Schmidt says. “You keep hitting it after the questions, make sure they can’t say a word.”11 He’ll squirt mustard into a jelly doughnut and set them in the pregame spread. He would stack paper cups on the batboy’s protective helmet.
But more importantly he became the Giants’ workhorse in the rotation. Averaging about 115 pitches per start, it’s a safe bet that without Schmidt’s arm, the Giants would have fallen out of contention in the NL west.
On May 18, 2004, Jason Schmidt stepped onto the mound at the famed Wrigley Field and dazzled the night crowd with an incredible performance. Hurling 144 pitches in nine innings, Schmidt held the Cubs to one hit, outdueling Cubs right-hander Matt Clement in the process. The only run that scored was on a Pedro Feliz single that scored Barry Bonds. Schmidt also tied his career high in strikeouts with 13 on the night that Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game against Schmidt’s former club, the Atlanta Braves.
“I’ll take the shutout and the win any say. I can’t argue with that,” Schmidt said. “No-hitters, there’s a lot of luck involved. If I never get one, so be it. I’m not going to lose sleep over that.”13
A month later he tossed another one-hitter, this time against the Boston Red Sox. Striking out nine on a 133 pitches as the Giants beat the Red Sox, 4-0.
“I like this one better,” Schmidt said, comparing it to his 1-0 win against the Cubs on May 18. “I can say I actually felt good. I felt sharp. All my pitches were working. It felt smooth today.”14
Schmidt ended 2004 with an 18-7 record with a 3.20 ERA. He struck out a career high 251. He tied for the league lead in shutouts with three. He made his second All-Star appearance and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting. However, the Giants missed the postseason.
On April 5, 2005, Jason Schmidt earned an opening day victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Going seven innings and striking out nine as the Giants beat their rival 4-2. In May, he went on the 15-day DL with a right shoulder strain. Schmidt returned to the club on May 24, earning a 5-3 win over the Dodgers in SBC Park. On June 22, he pitched his best game of the year against the Arizona Diamondbacks, striking out 10 in eight innings to hand Arizona a 4-0 loss. In September he suffered a right groin strain that listed him day-to-day. He finished 2005 with a 12-7 record and 3.20 ERA. The San Francisco Giants finished in third place in the NL West with a 75-87 mark.
On June 6, 2006, Jason Schmidt had the performance of his career against the Florida Marlins. He struck out 16 in a complete-game win on 124 pitches to give the Giants a 2-1 win. It was not only a career high, but he also tied the franchise’s all-time single game strikeouts record held by Christy Mathewson. A ninth-inning wild pitch moved runners to second and third with no outs. Schmidt struck out the final three batters to preserve the victory. It was Schmidt’s 20th career complete game and his third of the season.
The scene after the historic contest was fitting of a postseason celebration. His five-year old daughter Makynlee was waiting for her dad as he came up the steps. His teammates cheered, offered hugs and handshakes and clapped for Schmidt as he walked into the clubhouse.
“That’s a highlight of my career, coming in here and getting that reception from the guys,” Schmidt said. “That surprised me. I guess because I was so locked into the game.”15
Schmidt ended 2006 with an 11-9 record 3.59 ERA.
On December 6, 2006, Jason Schmidt signed a free contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The deal was worth three years and $47 million. His addition looked to bolster a solid rotation that included Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and left-hander Randy Wolf.
“Jason is a top of the rotation starter who can dominate a game as well as any pitcher in the major leagues,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “He’s a proven winner and that’s something that’s very hard to find.”16
Dodgers brass hoped that signing of Schmidt would give their World Series aspirations another boost, but Schmidt’s tenure with the Dodgers was marred with frequent trips to the disabled list.
In his first start as a Dodger, Schmidt earned a 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. In his Dodger Stadium debut, he left the game in the fifth with tightness in his right hamstring. In his next start against the San Diego Padres, he was rocked for five earned runs and seven hits in two-plus innings. Retiring only six of the 16 batters he faced. He eventually made a trip to the 15-day disabled list with bursitis in his throwing shoulder. Schmidt returned from the DL on June 5 against the San Diego Padres. He pitched six innings, but came up without the decision as the Dodgers lost to the Padres, 1-0. On June 20, 2007, Schmidt had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Dodgers organization was optimistic that he could make a return to All-Star form. “I think the odds are with him as opposed to against him,” said Stan Conte, the Dodgers director of medical services. 17 He missed the entire 2008 season.
During spring training 2009, Schmidt pitched in an intrasquad game, throwing 11 pitches, nine of them for strikes. He notice a remarkable difference in the way he pitched as opposed to the previous season when he tried to stepped back onto the mound, only to being relegated to the disabled list for an entire year.
“Coming in tomorrow, being able to play catch, that’s the bigger hurdle than anything,” Schmidt said. “Last year I kind of knew when the game was over how I was going to fell. I feel really good about it right now.”18
In a spring training game against the Texas Rangers, Schmidt only pitched two innings. He gave up a three-run home run but he gave Dodgers manager Joe Torre a glimmer of hope that he could return to the rotation as the club’s fifth starter.
In his first trip to the mound in two years, Jason Schmidt earned a tough 7-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds tagged him for three earned runs in the first inning, but he shook it off and finished strong to come up with his first win in two years. “I had hoped to just go out there and make it respectable but I’m happy with the result,” Schmidt said.19 His fastball never registered above 87 mph on the radar gun, but the most remarkable feat was for the former All-Star to make it back onto the field after an arduous journey that included shoulder surgery and numerous rehab assignments.
For a day, he returned to form against his old team, the Atlanta Braves. On July 31, he pitched six solid innings. Schmidt walked five, but gave up only one hit as the Dodgers beat the Braves 5-0. “Just to be out there is kind of a miracle in itself, “the 36-year-old said. “I wasn’t sure if they wanted me to,” Schmidt said of the Dodgers. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. It ended up going a lot better than I expected.”20 It would be the last taste of success in Schmidt’s major-league career.
On August 5, the veteran right-hander surrendered four earned runs and five hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. It was his second consecutive start where he failed to make it out of the fourth inning. The Dodgers lost the game, 4-1. In his four starts since returning from a two-year layoff from shoulder surgery, the former All-Star posted a 2-2 record with a 5.60 ERA. Two days later the Dodgers moved Schmidt to the 15-day DL for what the club deemed a “shoulder injury.” In his comeback after two years being on the shelf, Schmidt looked strong, but in his final two starts, looked subpar. The possibility that his career could come to a crashing halt loomed large.
He filed for free agency in November 2009, but eventually retired from the sport.
For his major-league career, Jason Schmidt recorded a 130-96 mark with a 3.96 ERA. His most successful run was with the San Francisco Giants, where he finished with a 78-37 to go along with a 3.36 ERA. Being the workhorse of the rotation brought him and the team success, but it paved a way for an injury bug to his shoulder that led to close of his major-league career.
He made his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2015, but ended up with no votes for enshrinement.
Jason Schmidt briefly made his mark as one of baseball’s most dominating pitchers. And while his career was plagued with injuries, he will be remembered for having an explosive pitching arsenal that left opposing batters perplexed. The success in San Francisco opened new opportunities for Jason Schmidt. It made him an All-Star, it gave him the chance to play on baseball’s grandest stage, and made him wealthier than he could imagine, but he never allowed it to define who he was.
“I try not to let baseball define me as a person,” Schmidt said. “I’m not the kind who will drop my name at a restaurant to get a table right away. I’d rather wait an hour. I don’t like to be noticed.
“When the time comes to walk away, I won’t have a hard time shedding the title of ballplayer.”21
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org.
1 Steve Henson, “Schmidt Keeps the Wolves at Bay,” Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2007, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-apr-09-sp-schmidt9-story.html
2 Al Wasser, “Despite His Slow Start, Kelso Ace Has Numbers That Add Up to a Bright Future,” Longview Daily News, April 20, 1991: B3.
3 Steve Henson.
4 I.J. Rosenberg, “Schmidt Opens A Few Eyes in 2-0 Blanking of Cubs,” Atlanta Constitution, September 4, 1995: D1.
5 Paul Meyer, “Pirates’ 11-game Streak Snapped in 4-3 Loss to Cubs,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 24, 1996: C1.
6 “Jason Schmidt Gets OK to Resume Activities,” Longview Daily News, March 14, 1997: D1.
7 Alan Robinson, “Pirates’ Schmidt Goes on DL,” Tyrone Daily Herald, June 13, 2000: 4.
8 Robert Dvorchak, “Giant Step” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 31, 2001: D-3.
9 Jason Reid, “Baker Feels Heat for Loss,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2002: D17.
10 Joe Strauss, “Cards Hit the Road with 2-0 Deficit; Giants Can Clinch Series at Home,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct 11, 2002: D4.
11 Daniel G. Habib, “Jason Schmidt Has Got To Be Kidding Every Fifth Day, The Giants’ Ace And CY Young Front-Runner Mows Down Batters. The Rest Of The Time He’s The League Leader In Practical Jokes,” Sports Illustrated, July 26, 2004, https://www.si.com/vault/2004/07/26/377606/jason-schmidt-has-got-to-be-kidding-every-fifth-day-the-giants-ace-and-cy-young-front-runner-mows-down-batters-the-rest-of-the-time-hes-the-league-leader-in-practical-jokes
12 Paul Sullivan, “About Schmidt: 1-hit Masterwork,” Chicago Tribune, May 19, 2004: 1.
13 Nancy Armour, “Schmidt Throws One-Hitter,” Napa Valley Register, May 19, 2004: D2.
14 “Schmidt One-Hits Red Sox,” Kenosha News, June 21, 2004: B5.
15 Janie McCauley, “Schmidt Mows Down Marlins,” Santa Maria Times, June 7, 2006: D3.
17 Ben Bolch, “Schmidt Gets Good Odds on Recovery,” Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2007: D6.
18 Dylan Hernandez, “Schmidt Feeling Good after Session,” Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2009: D3.
19 Dylan Hernandez, “Schmidt’s Win Not Totally Off the Wall,” Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2009: C1.
20 Charles Odum, “Schmidt Pitches Gem for Win,” Desert Sun, August 1, 2009: C5.
21 Steve Henson, “Schmidt Keeps the Wolves at Bay,” Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2007, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-apr-09-sp-schmidt9-story.html