I don’t know if you heard about this, but there was a bit of a kerfuffle this morning.
Mike Schmidt offered a squirrelly response to a question in a radio interview about the potential of the Phillies using Odubel Herrera as a centerpiece and building around him in the future. Schmidt said no, citing several actual reasons for thinking so, and then also an additional reason:
"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."
The quote began an all-day exchange over what Schmidt had meant, and if it was the incorrect take that Spanish-speaking players are unable to become leaders of MLB teams. The conversation eventually ballooned to the national stage, with Ken Rosenthal weighing in and chiding Schmidt for the above portion of his answer.
Later in the day, Schmidt reached out to Herrera and the public.
Mike Schmidt called Odubel Herrera to apologize. Herrera said he accepted, told Schmidt not to worry about it, & wants it to blow over.— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) June 6, 2017
Mike Schmidt apologizes for comments about Odubel Herrera— John Clark CSN/NBC (@JClarkCSN) June 6, 2017
"Im very sorry"#Phillies⚾️ https://t.co/5eIT4y2ZTI
Odubel Herrera says he respects Mike Schmidt as a former great player but— John Clark CSN/NBC (@JClarkCSN) June 6, 2017
"I dont agree with his comments.Its disappointing"
To @CSNPhilly pic.twitter.com/j0iCb6yihE
It doesn’t really matter what some public relations lackey told Schmidt to say to the fans. What matters here is that Schmidt reached out to Herrera, Herrera said it was cool, and, perhaps most importantly, Pete Mackanin had his player’s back, even in the wake of an issue that put him between a member of his team and the Phillies' most famous and best player of all time.
We don't need as many lessons as we get on the topic of "old and young baseball players just do not understand each other." The world has changed. The sport has changed. These days, players are going to do things the older guard doesn't understand, which is perfectly understandable. I haven't spoken to a teenager in years. I have no idea what's going on in their heads. Is smoking still cool? Joe Camel is one righteous pachyderm; right, youths?
What I'm yammering about here is that some people, typically those we define as "old school," don't like when Odubel Herrera flips his bat. That's fine. I disagree. But I get it. They don't like that he looks like he doesn't hustle on every play. I can also grasp this. Most understandably, they don't like that he was struggling to hit .220 and looked bad doing it for two months after receiving a five-year extension. That got very hard to watch. If anyone, old school or new school or too cool for school, suggested that Herrera may not be the player with the leadership skills, or even the baseball skills, to be at the center of the next Phillies championship team, well, it sucks, but that's a legitimate argument.
But if that person were then to suggest - or, as it happened, suggest it first - that he wasn't a leader because of the language barrier, that would be - and was - an incorrect thing to say. It certainly appeared to me that by saying the Spanish-speaking Herrera couldn't be a leader on the team, whether he intended it or not, Schmidt was saying any player for whom English is not a first language is incapable of filling that role, which has been proven false by multiple lists of examples all day. Schmidt, as we've learned during his broadcasting gigs, isn't a skilled communicator.
Communication is an obvious factor for leadership. But the thing about a language barrier is that, in time, it fades. Players who are here for the long term often learn to speak English (teams often aid with this process), as the players and coaches around them should pick up some Spanish. If they don't learn it, guys find a way to communicate with each other, and if Herrera wanted to tell somebody to hustle more, he'd probably find a way. But we don't even know if he wants to be a leader. Right now he probably just wants to hit .260. Or make solid contact. Regardless of his goals, it is incorrect to disqualify a player from being a leader on a team because English is not his first language. It's a barrier that's proven perfectly surmountable for many players in the past.
And it's a moot point. Herrera does speak English, and his communication skills have not been reported as a problem in the clubhouse. In any case, he accepted Schmidt's apology and wants to move past the issue. Everybody does. And most importantly, entering tonight's game, he's got eight hits in his last thirteen at-bats.
Let's all crack open a cold one and relax knowing the day's language-related baseball broadcaster takes have concluded.
Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy said that Masahiro Tanaka shouldn't be allowed to use a translator for mound visits https://t.co/ymO5Rd5yYr— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) June 7, 2017
[furiously chugs cold one]