Though different words were used and in somewhat different contexts, two men with close ties to MLB made distasteful and arguably racist remarks yesterday about the culture that so often is a point of pride in baseball.
In an interview Tuesday morning on WIP (94.1 FM, Philadelphia), Hall of Fame third baseman (and former Phillie) Mike Schmidt argued that the Phillies should not (and could not) build a franchise around All-Star outfielder Odubel Herrera because of the language barrier that exists between Herrera, a Venezuelan whose English is poor, and his teammates.
"My honest answer to that [question] would be 'No,'" Schmidt said in the interview. "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.' "
Later Tuesday night, on NESN's broadcast of the Yankees-Red Sox game, analyst Jerry Remy addressed a component of the game which he felt to be unnecessary: translators accompanying coaches on visits to the mound to meet with pitchers.
"Learn baseball language," Remy said during the seventh inning. "You know, learn, it's pretty simple. You break it down pretty easy between pitching coach and pitcher after a long period of time."
Dave O'Brien, the play-by-play announcer for the game, answered his partner: "I would say that probably, you know, they're concerned about nuance being lost in some of these conversations."
Good to see that O'Brien, an upstanding professional broadcaster with experience calling games on the biggest stage, recognizes that nuance exists where Remy clearly did not.
First, I want to make sure that I am clear: I am not calling these two men racist or labeling them as such. Making one such comment does not automatically impose such a term on an individual.
However, what these two men said in the public spotlight was misguided, disturbing, and above all disappointing.
Schmidt's supposed refusal to build a team around anyone with less than perfect English is appalling. This means that, given the option, he would have chosen not to set an all-time great like Roberto Clemente, or current stars (likely future Hall of Famers) Carlos Beltrán, Ichiro Suzuki, and Miguel Cabrera as centerpieces and franchise cornerstones.
Sure, he later apologized, but the apology reads more like a desperate attempt at self-preservation than genuine contrition.
“It’s been made known to me that my answer on a radio interview this morning to the question, ‘Can the Phillies build a team around Odubel Herrera,’ was disrespectful to Herrera and Latin players in general," Schmidt said in a statement provided to Comcast SportsNet Philly. I’m very sorry that this misrepresentation of my answer occurred and may have offended someone.
"I assure everyone I had no intention of that," Schmidt continued. "Odubel is a dynamo on the field, and as he becomes more comfortable with the language, his leadership skills will improve, and no doubt he will be a centerpiece in the Phillies’ future.”
Now, on to the case of Remy, a color commentator/analyst since 1988 with NESN for Red Sox games. I include the year primarily as a frame of reference to indicate that Remy is no stranger to the industry — especially as a former player with the Angels and Red Sox who later made the jump into the broadcast booth — and one who has been around long enough to see the growth of the game worldwide.
His comment that Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka — and other minority pitchers in the MLB — should not be allowed to have translators accompany their pitching coaches is astounding, especially for someone whose own team of expertise has been led by tremendous pitchers whose English might not have been their best stuff on the mound.
From pitchers like Pedro Martinez, Hideki Okajima and Junichi Tazawa (all of whom won a World Series with Boston) to charismatic hitters like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, the Red Sox have been no stranger to successful foreign-born players. Yet for Remy to suggest that pitchers "learn baseball language," when these and so many others have grown the game in their respective home countries through pride in their own culture and language, it is awfully short-sighted and paints the corner on ignorant.
A Red Sox spokeswoman, undoubtedly trying to distance the team from these comments, said in a statement: "We do not share the views expressed by Jerry Remy during last night's broadcast."
Also, with Remy's tenure he has undoubtedly witnessed the diversity of MLB continuing to expand. This season marks the fourth-highest percentage (241 of 856, for 28.2 percent) of foreign-born players on Opening Day rosters and disabled/inactive lists in the league's history, behind 2005 (29.2 percent), 2009 (29 percent), and 2016 (28.4 percent).
The league is near its peak in terms of global growth, and it continues to expand, which is part of the agenda of Commissioner Rob Manfred and league executives. For Schmidt and Remy to say what they did suggests an attitude of exclusion, which is a shame because inclusion has gotten the league this far.
Do Schmidt and Remy deserve to be reprimanded? Maybe. My role here is not to hand out punishment when I'm not the one in power. But I do believe in another option, and that is opening eyes to see that what these two men said, while they surely have the right to say it, is uncalled for and disappointing to players and fans. Ultimately, though, it is against the good of the game that has become so attractive in the United States as a result of collaboration — not isolation — among players across all backgrounds.