ATLANTA — With Freddy Galvis by his side for support, Odubel Herrera took a phone call from Mike Schmidt on Tuesday afternoon.
Schmidt apologized for comments that he made on WIP radio earlier in the day in which he opined that Herrera's lack of proficiency with the English language could limit his ability to become a team leader and building block (see story).
"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."
Herrera speaks and understands more English than people realize. But he prefers to do media interviews with the assistance of Diego Ettedgui, the team's Spanish-language translator. Herrera, Galvis and Ettedgui are all from Venezuela. Spanish is their first language.
Herrera was asked if he's ever had a problem communicating or interacting in the clubhouse.
"Zero," he said in English.
He was asked about his conversation with Schmidt.
"I told him to calm down, that everything was OK and that I understood everything," Herrera said through Ettedgui. "I actually told him that I still admire him as a player and that everything is all right. Quite frankly, I'm more focused on my game. I want to get better. I'm not thinking about it too much."
Galvis, one of the Phillies' top leaders, had no problem with what Schmidt said.
"First, you have to see what he really meant to say and why he said it," Galvis said. "I think what he said about the language barrier — I think sometimes if you don't speak good English or you don't speak English at all, it's kind of hard to communicate with players. It's kind of hard to communicate with your teammates.
"I don't think [Schmidt] meant it in a bad way. I think he meant it like if you have 25 guys and you have one guy … and you have to communicate about games situations and that kind of stuff, you have to know how to speak English a little bit. Odubel can do it. I think he can be a good leader. He's shown it on the field. He's shown it in the clubhouse. I think he's going to get better at it. I think he's going to start speaking English a little bit better and I think it's going to be easier for him.
"I don't think Mike meant to disrespect Odubel or Latin players. I've known Schmidt for about eight years or something like that. He always was a good guy. I don't think he meant to say that. I don't think he meant to say something bad about Latin guys or whatever. I think he's a pretty good guy. I believe some people are taking his words out of context. I believe that for sure. I talked with him already and I think everybody is on the same page. I think everything is good and I think that's it. There's nothing left to say. You don't have to create a big deal where there isn't a big deal."
Galvis explained why some Latin players prefer to speak to the media with a translator close by.
"We use a translator because we want to use the right words," he said. "But I don't think we have to create something big. It's nothing. It's nothing right now. Everybody here in the clubhouse knows that much. We're OK."
Herrera acknowledged that speaking English can benefit a player. But the language of leadership is universal.
"Of course it helps to speak English if you're a baseball player," Herrera said. "This country is better if you speak English. It's the main language. I want to speak English. But sometimes you can lead by example. You can lead by doing other things. In my case, I think I bring energy to the team. I think they can feed off of that. That's the leadership I have right now. In the future, when I learn English better and am more comfortable doing that, maybe I'll be the kind of leader that some other people want me to be."
Manager Pete Mackanin steered clear of the controversy, calling Schmidt's comments "ill-advised."
He backed Herrera and cited Galvis in dismissing the notion that language makes the leader.
"Odubel works hard," Mackanin said. "He's an outstanding centerfielder and he's coming around to be the hitter that we know he can be. I have no issues with Odubel.
"Freddy is a leader by example. The energy he brings to the table, the way he goes about his business, and his overall attitude. Leadership comes from an attitude and he has a great attitude. He loves to win and hates to lose. He doesn't take at-bats onto the field. He's the first guy that comes to mind."