It was all fun and games for Hall of Fame baseball player Mike Schmidt until he was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma at age 63.
Hall of Fame baseball player Mike Schmidt misses the locker room camaraderie. He misses the post-game review, the repartee exchanged around the batting cages, and the occasional beers shared among his teammates. Even more, he misses the challenges he faced every day on the field.
But what he doesn’t miss, at least not anymore, are the countless hours of baking in the sun.
“I spent my whole life just ignoring the idea of sunscreen,” Schmidt, 66, says. “I would have put on Coppertone oil or something to help me get a tan … but never anything that would have kept me from getting one.”
Schmidt, who is now a Jupiter resident, spent 18 seasons playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. Regarded as the best third baseman in baseball history, Schmidt hit 548 home runs, won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award three times, and was a 12-time All-Star player.
But while Schmidt’s career was reaching great heights, his skin was paying the price. And in September 2013, nearly 40 years from the time his professional career began, the 63-year-old Ohio native was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma.
Throughout the years, Schmidt had dealt with his share of questionable moles. After all, growing up with crystal blue eyes and a fair complexion, which he used to lather up in baby oil and iodine while working as a swimming pool lifeguard, didn’t help matters much. But never did he have a cause for alarm.
That was until an innocuous mark appeared on his hand.
One day while driving to the airport, Schmidt made an impromptu call to his dermatologist. Agreeing to see him that day, Schmidt took a quick detour to his doctor’s office.
Schmidt was expecting the usual snip. But after a full-body examination, it was not the mark on his hand that worried Schmidt’s dermatologist, but rather an odd-shaped mole on his back. Two days later, Schmidt received the news: skin cancer.
For more than a year, Schmidt underwent aggressive treatment. He received radiation, interferon and an immunotherapy drug. For a month straight, he sat in a room with an IV stuck in his arm, surrounded by other patients.
“I had to double down on my faith,” he says. “When the prospect of not living enters into your mind, you can develop some dark thoughts.”
Schmidt learned to rely on and value his faith, friendships and his wife.
“I would say to myself, ‘What you have is nothing buddy … Get tough, be confident, pray, but more than anything, learn from this,’” he says.
Schmidt had more than 30 lymph nodes removed, and the cancer spots, which had spread into his brain, were radiated. The melanoma fought hard, but Schmidt fought harder. To date, he is cancer-free.
Schmidt now gets CT body scans every six months, and MRI scans of his brain every three months.
Today, the Jupiter resident is educating others on the importance of sun safety. He recently added the Richard David Kann Melanoma Foundation as a partner to his charity, Winner’s Circle Charities, to help raise money for sun awareness.
Together they will help introduce new initiatives including sunblock dispensing stations around Jupiter’s beaches and parks.
“I essentially was one of the lucky ones,” he says. “The least I could do now is further the cause of sun safety awareness.”