PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt says Philadelphia center fielder Odubel Herrera can be a team leader as he "becomes more comfortable with the language."
Schmidt drew criticism Tuesday for saying in an interview on 94 WIP-FM that Herrera's language barrier prevented him from being a player the Phillies can build their team around.
He later clarified his remarks in a statement.
"All I said was the language barrier he has now would make it difficult to be a team leader," Schmidt told The Associated Press. "In the future when he learns to communicate better, he can be anything he wants."
Herrera, a Venezuelan native, was an All-Star in 2016. Schmidt, a part-time analyst and spring training instructor for the team, said he picked him to win the NL batting title this season.
The 25-year-old Herrera speaks to reporters through an interpreter and isn't as comfortable doing interviews as some of his Spanish-speaking teammates. Freddy Galvis, a fellow Venezuelan, is the team's clubhouse leader.
"I'm very sorry that this misrepresentation of my answer occurred and may have offended someone," Schmidt said in a statement released by the team. "I assure everyone I had no intention of that. 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."
Herrera plays with energy and emotion. But he can also irritate opponents when he flips his bat on fly outs and he has angered his manager for lack of hustle. Manager Pete Mackanin once benched Herrera after he failed to run hard to first base on a bouncer to the pitcher in the seventh inning of a close game.
"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," Schmidt told WIP. "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."
Angelo Cataldi, host of WIP's morning show, adamantly defended Schmidt.
"There was absolutely no connotation of racism to what Schmidt said," Cataldi told the AP. "It was strictly a reference to Herrera's language barrier. It's ridiculous the media has blown this out of proportion. If this was newsworthy, I would've known as soon as he said it."
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