BROOKOVER: With Herrera comments, Mike Schmidt again opens mouth, inserts foot

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
  • Mike Schmidt said a language barrier may prevent Odubel Herrera from becoming a team leader.
  • Schmidt is a former Phillies great and current broadcaster, and a Baseball Hall of Famer.

Sometimes when Michael Jack Schmidt speaks, you just have to shake your head and wonder why three letters were not added to the end of his middle name.

This is not a new phenomenon that surfaced for the first time Tuesday morning, when the Hall of Fame third baseman made an appearance on Angelo Cataldi's WIP morning show. It happened often when he played and even more often when he stopped.

Former Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Philadelphia. Schmidt has come under fire remarks he made about current Phillies player Odubel Herrera.

It usually doesn't create too much of a stir because he is simply ill-informed or unprepared about a subject that carries little weight. A couple of weeks ago, for example, he asked John Kruk on the air what it was like playing with Jayson Werth. He was obviously unaware that Kruk's career ended seven years before Werth's started, an inexcusable gaffe in a job that should require a ton of homework.

Kruk, Ben Davis, and Tom McCarthy never show up at the ballpark unprepared. Schmidt, despite his deserving title as the greatest player in franchise history, should not get a pass in the broadcast booth.

But that's a far different subject from the one raised Tuesday, when Schmidt inexplicably declared that the Phillies cannot build their team around Odubel Herrera because the Venezuelan-born center fielder does not speak enough English. Thanks to the racial overtones, it was news that went viral in an instant.

Cataldi's question was clear: Can you build a team around Herrera?

"My honest answer to that would be no because of a couple of things," Schmidt said. "First of all, it is a language barrier. Because of that, I think he can't be a guy that would sort of sit in a circle with four or five American players and talk about the game or try to learn about the game or discuss the inner workings of the game."

Dissecting the thought: Let's dissect that thought.

I happen to think that Herrera would greatly benefit by mastering English because it would open doors for him if he continues on the impressive career path he was on during his first two seasons. Become a perennial all-star and local commercial opportunities will come your way. If he learned fluent English, Herrera could certainly be a clubhouse leader because he exudes the kind of confidence and cockiness you like to see in every player.

Herrera is, by the way, working on his English with the help of team interpreter Diego Ettedgui. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez has made great strides in that regard since coming to the big leagues. Because of Ettedgui's constant presence around the ballclub, it is quite easy for an English-speaking player to have a conversation about anything with a Spanish-speaking player.

Talent, not language, is now and will forever be the No. 1 quality for becoming the foundation of a team. You could build a team around Ichiro Suzuki. Schmidt, of course, spoke perfect English, but he was not the leader of the Phillies' first great era because he was not a great communicator. He'd talk in circles and needed Pete Rose to convince him that he was the most talented player in the game.

Schmidt foolishly said that Herrera cannot be the guy who says, " 'Hey, you've got to run that ball out.' He can't be, because of the language barrier, that kind of player."

I'm quite sure Herrera knows how to say, "You've got to run that ball out," because it has been drilled into his head in English by manager Pete Mackanin and Spanish by third-base coach Juan Samuel. Those two often are unhappy when Herrera does not sprint to first.

Sign of poor preparation: Another sign that Schmidt is not always prepared followed when he said that Herrera had never gone through a slide like the recent one that saw his average drop from .292 on April 19 to .218 on May 31. In fact, Herrera actually went through a very similar slump in May of his rookie season before rebounding to hit .297 for the season. Again, that's about being prepared, something Schmidt is often not when he speaks.

Unknowingly, Schmidt probably offended others in the course of his conversation with Cataldi.

"To build a team around a guy, he has to sprint every ball out like Chase Utley used to do," Schmidt said.

Jimmy Rollins did not run every ball out, but he was every bit as much a part of the Phillies' foundation as Utley during the run of five straight division titles. Ryan Howard's power was a rather important part of the structure, too.

Ignorant, silly and stupid: So what Schmidt said about Herrera was ignorant, silly, and stupid and apparently he realized that later because Herrera told reporters in Atlanta that Schmidt called him and apologized. Apparently they were able to overcome the language barrier.

Schmidt has been here and done this before. This is the guy who suggested hoagies made Philadelphia fans negative during his final spring training. He's the guy who thought he should be the manager without any minor-league training shortly after he retired, then was a one-and-done manager when he finally attempted to do the job at single-A Clearwater in 2004.

Watching Michael Jack Schmidt was always a joy. Listening to Michael Jack Schmidt talk about baseball and other subjects is often entertaining, too. But sometimes he has no idea what he's talking about, and that is when you wonder why three more letters are not at the end of his middle name.