Philadelphia Phillies legend Mike Schmidt is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, a third baseman who smacked 548 homers, won three NL MVP awards and led his team to the 1980 World Series title.
He doesn’t sound like he’d be much of a general manager, though.
The 67-year-old Schmidt said on Tuesday that he wouldn’t build a team around current Phillies headliner Odubel Herrera because, before anything else, he isn’t a native English speaker.
Here’s Schmidt on the 94WIP show (via CBS Philly) after being asked if Herrera is the type of player he would build a team around:
“My honest answer to that would be no because of a couple of things. 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.”
So, applying Schmidt’s own logic to the team-building process he’d also take a pass on building a team around — off the top of my head — Roberto Clemente, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Ramirez or Ichiro.
Just because English wasn’t their strong suit.
Schmidt’s thinking ignores convenient facts like 1) WAR and slash lines being a universal language or 2) the diverse nature of baseball means there will always be other teammates around who speak your language and might be in need of a batting tip or ‘no bueno‘ after slagging it down the line. The Phillies have more than their fair share of Hispanic players on the roster.
(It’s here that I should also point out no one ever docks English-only players for not being able to speak with their Spanish or Japanese-speaking teammates in the clubhouse.)
Now, there are valid reasons to believe that Herrera isn’t the cornerstone the Phillies believe him to be after handing him a six-year, $30 million contract extension. The 25-year-old’s start to the 2017 season has been poor: Two months of severe slumping followed by a recent rebound at the plate.
You also wouldn’t put him in the class of the game’s other young stars: The Mike Trouts, Bryce Harpers, Kris Bryants, Manny Machados and Carlos Correas of the league.
And Schmidt, to his credit, said as much:
“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.
But not before devolving back into more weird territory on how Herrera’s more enthusiastic approach to the game apparently disqualifies him from being part of a championship core.
“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.
OK, so that quote is a bit confusing. Apparently Herrera’s bat flipping, which isn’t that unique on major league diamonds, is a drawback. But it’s also a positive? Or something?
Just where do you stand, Mike?
“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.”
Well, glad that’s settled.
But wait, there was more!
“To build a team around a guy he has to sprint every ball out like Chase Utley used to do. Be more of, I wanna say, a friend of every … not that he’s not a friend, it’s hard to describe what I mean. The language barrier means a lot because his communication with his teammates is limited because of the language barrier. So I don’t think I’m disrespecting him by any means. But when you say build a team around somebody you’re generally talking about a Roy Halladay as a pitcher, Cliff Lee, you’re talking about a Mike Trout kind of player. Players that, you know, are automatic All-Stars every year. So, um, I think an Aaron Altherr can become that kind of guy. Uh, you know, I think as Tommy Joseph learns and gets better and becomes a 30 home run, 100 RBI player … We got some young players in the minor leagues that could eventually become those kinds of players … um, but um, am I answering your question?
The audio is really something because you can tell Schmidt seems to recognize he’s stepping in something, but can’t stop himself from digging a deeper hole.
As you can imagine, Schmidt’s comments elicited quite a reaction — many people thought he was totally out of the line and some others defended him. By Tuesday afternoon, Schmidt released a statement half-way apologizing for what he said. He said he was sorry that a “misrepresentation of my answer occurred,” which isn’t exactly the same thing as owning the blame.
Mike Schmidt apologizes for comments about Odubel Herrera
— John Clark CSN/NBC (@JClarkCSN) June 6, 2017
He also reportedly called Herrera and apologized for his comments.
Odubel Herrera said Mike Schmidt called to apologize for comments he made on WIP.
— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) June 6, 2017
Before Tuesday night’s game, Herrera told reporters that he and Schmidt had no problems, but he didn’t quite agree with the assessment. From CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury:
“I don’t agree with his comments, but I respect him as a player,” Herrera said. “I know he’s one of the greatest Phillies players of all time, but I don’t agree with his comments.
“It is disappointing because you never want to hear negative comments, but he called me, he apologized, and explained what happened. Everything is good. It’s really not as big of a deal that people are making it sound like.”
Look, anyone who was around for the Phillies last run of success should be able to realize that sustained success doesn’t come from building around just one player, but from a strong core of team-developed talent that hails from all corners.
Who is Ryan Howard without Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz, a Spanish-speaker who’s revered for his leadership in the streets of Philly?
The Phillies may struggle to put championship-caliber talent around Herrera during the life of his contract, but it will have nothing to do with the language he prefers or how he circles the bases after a home run.
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