Mike Schmidt, the Phillies’ Hall of Fame third baseman and current team broadcaster, did an interview on WIP this morning in which he said some monumentally stupid things.
It started when Angelo Cataldi brought up Odubel Herrera, and mentioned that Herrera isn’t the kind of player Schmidt was. Schmidt’s response?
“Almost exact opposite.”
Cataldi then asked if a player like Odubel is a guy you can build a team around. And here’s where things get bad.
“My honest answer to that would be no because of a couple of things,.” Schmidt said. “First of all, it’s a language barrier. Because of that, I think he can’t be a guy that would sort of sit in a circle with four, five American players and talk about the game. Or try and learn about the game or discuss the inner workings of the game. Or come over to a guy and say, ‘Man, you gotta run that ball out.’ Just can’t be — because of the language barrier — that kind of a player.”
Ugh. But Schmidt wasn’t done. Then he went into detail about Odubel Herrera.
“Odubel can be — you see what he’s doing the last three days and we saw the inconsistency that dropped his batting average all the way down to the low .200’s prior to the last three games, and that’s really the first time we’ve seen that kind of inconsistency from him. However, he’s more of a sort of, play the game, allow his exuberance for the game to kind of spread around the team. I think the fans love him. He’s not afraid to do things that sort of irk the other team if you will, and you know what that is. I probably would hate him if I played against him because of his antics on the field, but he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to do that. He’s learning to play a really good centerfield. They haven’t figured out where he needs to hit in the batting order yet.
“To answer your question, those are the reasons that I don’t think you can build a team around him. Now, I truly think he can hit second or first on a championship team. There’s no question about that.”
So let’s break this down. When Mike Schmidt is talking building a team around a player, he seems to be talking about that player being a team leader. He’s not talking about a player having the skills to be a standout. To be a player talented enough that a team wants to keep him and add other complementary players. What Mike Schmidt is talking about is team leadership. Learning more about the game, constantly improving, advising other players, setting a good example, etc. It’s possible he’s talking about all of that together, but he’s definitely talking about a player’s ability to lead a team off the field as well as on it. He’s using an old school, literal definition of “building a team around a player.”
And because a player doesn’t speak English as their first language, or perhaps at all if you take the strictest interpretation of Schmidt’s comments, Schmidt doesn’t think they can be a player the Phillies can build around, or a team leader. Because a player speaks Spanish first, which in MLB are mostly Hispanic players, Schmidt doesn’t think they’ll ever be good enough.
There’s just so much wrong with what Schmidt is saying. So much. That Hispanic/Spanish-speaking players can’t be leaders because English isn’t their first language. That they somehow don’t or can’t have enough command of the English language to speak or understand it, or communicate effectively. And that English speaking players aren’t under any obligation to learn how to communicate with their teammates, because English is the language of clubhouses. Of leadership.
Beyond the base ridiculousness of Schmidt’s argument, it’s also demonstrably untrue. Hispanic players are leaders all over MLB. Albert Pujols. David Ortiz. Adrian Beltre. Jorge Posada. Tony Perez on the Reds from the Big Red Machine era. Roberto Clemente! ROBERTO CLEMENTE, who played in Schmidt’s era. If being a team leader means being the first one out of the dugout to punch an old man in the head, Pedro Martinez is a team leader, too. And if we’re talking about team leaders who don’t speak English as their first language, how about Ichiro Suzuki?
And Schmidt is forgetting a very important team leader from the most recent golden age of the Phillies: Carlos Ruiz, who not only led a pitching staff who spoke English as their first language, but emerged as a clubhouse leader despite speaking Spanish as his first language. Because Chooch speaks English as well as Spanish.
Hispanic players have been part of baseball for a very, very long time. Multilingual clubhouses aren’t a new development. It’s not something kids today invented. And baseball players have been able to communicate with each other with no problems. Having an interpreter for a meeting with management or a TV interview is different than prepping for a game in the clubhouse. A player wanting to make sure he understands what the manager or GM is trying to say, or using an interpreter in an adrenaline-filled postgame interview to make sure he’s understood, is far, far different than talking baseball at your lockers. Players have been able to work around language barriers for years. It’s part of being teammates. And besides that, assuming Hispanic players don’t speak English, or speak it well enough to be understood, is absurd.
You know who speaks Spanish? Pete Mackanin. He recognizes that English isn’t the only language in the clubhouse, and his command of Spanish allows him full two-way communication with his players.
And I haven’t even begun to talk about Odubel Herrera. Odubel Herrera, who is the only player the Phillies have signed to a long term contract. The Phillies themselves have identified Herrera as a foundational piece of their future, which Mike Schmidt apparently disagrees with.
In fact, the five of the longest tenured Phillies position players are Hispanic. Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera, and Andres Blanco. And I’m not even including the bullpen, which is primarily Hispanic! Hector Neris, Joely Rodriguez, Joaquin Benoit, Jeanmar Gomez, Luis Garcia, Edubray Ramos! And when Jorge Alfaro is called up to be the Phillies starting catcher to follow in Chooch’s glorious footsteps (just wait, it’ll happen), that’s one more Hispanic player to add to the Phillies core.
Mike Schmidt is allowed to hold any opinion he wants, but I’m also allowed to say it’s titanically terrible opinion to hold. It’s not just terrible, it’s wrong. It’s wrong and insulting to the Hispanic players on the Phillies.
The Phillies are giving out Mike Schmidt bobbleheads on July 8. As far as I’m concerned, they can keep ‘em.