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The Rise Of Troy

From His Maturation as a Hitter to His Reticence With Media, Angel Third Baseman Glaus Drawing Early Comparisons to Hall of Famer Schmidt

April 03, 2001|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mo Vaughn, sizing up Angel third baseman Troy Glaus' exceptional power, plate discipline, defensive range, arm strength and overall potential, was the first to make the comparison, at least publicly.

"This guy is going to be Mike Schmidt," Vaughn said last June.

Glaus did nothing to discourage such speculation, ripping an American League-leading 47 home runs in 2000 while batting .284 with 102 runs batted in, 120 runs, 112 walks and a .404 on-base percentage.

In his first two full seasons, Glaus hit 76 homers in 313 games. Schmidt, the Philadelphia Phillie Hall of Famer, hit 54 homers in 294 games in his first two seasons.

Schmidt struggled in his first full season, batting .196 with 18 homers, 52 RBIs, 136 strikeouts and 62 walks in 1973. Glaus, now 24, did the same, batting .240 with 29 homers, 79 RBIs, 143 strikeouts and 71 walks in 1999.

Schmidt improved dramatically in his second season, hitting .282 with 36 homers and 116 RBIs. A sharp increase in walks, 106, was a key factor in his 1974 surge. Ditto for Glaus in 2000.

Schmidt was a little prickly with reporters and uncomfortable in the spotlight as a youngster. Same with Glaus.

There are so many parallels, it seemed natural to wonder: What does the real Mike Schmidt think of the next Mike Schmidt?

"I would love to help you," Schmidt said, when contacted at his home in Jupiter, Fla., "but I can't say I've ever heard of the player."

In this era of instant information, with pitch-by-pitch updates of every game available on the Internet and nightly sports highlight shows inundating the airwaves, Schmidt hasn't tuned in, he has dropped out.

After a 17-year career in which he had 548 homers and 1,595 RBIs, Schmidt has lost interest in the game. He plays golf, fishes, does charity work. He'll catch an inning or two on ESPN, look at some box scores, but he's in bed by 10 every night, before the West Coast games start.

"I haven't seen him on TV," Schmidt said of Glaus. "Maybe if he was in Florida, Philadelphia or the East Coast I could help you. But wish him the best of luck for me."

Schmidt may not know of Glaus, the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder some teammates call "man-child," but he can relate to what he has gone through.

Like Glaus, Schmidt was often overmatched as a rookie. He found success the next year, matured quickly, and soared to remarkable heights.

"All of a sudden a kid will hit a couple of big home runs, something will spark a change," Schmidt said. "And when he gets that confidence at the major league level, he can take off."

For Schmidt, it was a walk-off homer against reliever Tug McGraw to beat the New York Mets in the 1974 season opener.

"After that, it was straight uphill for the next 16 years," Schmidt said.

The epiphany for Glaus wasn't as dramatic. It occurred during spring training last year, on a deserted practice field below Tempe Diablo Stadium. While the Angels played a Cactus League game, Glaus spent an hour with batting instructor Mickey Hatcher, hitting until his hands were raw.

Hatcher wanted to simplify Glaus' swing and approach, to clear a cluttered mind in which thoughts caromed like pinballs every time Glaus stepped into the batter's box: Where are my hands and feet positioned? How far do I stride? Are my hips aligned properly?

"His biggest problem was thinking about mechanics all the time," Hatcher said.

Hatcher tried to recreate Glaus' swing from his junior year at UCLA, when he broke Mark McGwire's Pacific 10 Conference single-season record with 34 home runs.

Glaus stood more upright, dropped his hands a little, opened his stance a bit and bent his back knee slightly. Hatcher encouraged him to be more aggressive on 2-and-0 and 3-and-1 counts and urged him to swing at the first pitch a little more often.

"It was me and Mickey, one on one, for what seemed like days, but it was probably an hour or so," Glaus said. "I got some aggression out. It took 150-200 swings to figure some stuff out."

When Glaus walked away from the field that day, "You could see a look of confidence on his face," Hatcher said. "He felt good about himself."

So good that Glaus established himself as one of baseball's best young players in 2000, enjoying an all-star season that was rewarded with a four-year, $22-million contract this spring but did little to satiate its producer.

Asked what he needs to improve in 2001, a season the Angels will open at Texas today, Glaus replied, "Everything. This game has been played for 130 years, and no one has licked it yet. I can get better on defense and the basepaths. I can be more selective, hit more line drives, go the other way more, pull the ball better . . . really, everything."

It is this relentless work ethic, the derivative of a tireless mother and a horrendous 1999 season, that has convinced teammates and coaches that Glaus won't get complacent or let the new contract go to his head.

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