June 12, 2017
Mike Schmidt apologized last week for doing something that is no longer tolerable in a media age fueled by website hits and social media clicks. He gave an honest answer to a simple question.
How dare he.
This latest example of the decline in the simple art of communication was especially maddening to me because I got caught right in the middle of it. I asked the greatest third baseman in baseball history whether Odubel Herrera could ever be a major building block to a championship team.
Schmidt paused before answering, and then said this:
“My honest answer to that would be no because of a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a language barrier. Because of that, I think he can’t be a guy that who would sort of sit in a circle with four, five American players and talk about the game . . . or come over to a guy and say, ‘Man you gotta run that ball out.’ It just can’t be, because of the language barrier.”
According to my co-hosts at WIP radio, they knew instantly that Schmidt was in trouble. Even though the Phillies broadcaster was stating an undeniable fact – that Herrera is not fluent in English – the mere suggestion that there was an ethnic connection became fodder for the army of blogging blowhards holding vigil on the Internet.
I left the building that day with no concerns that a cyber storm was brewing. The first time I checked my computer for sports news, just a couple of hours after the show, headlines leaped off the screen describing how Schmidt had “ripped” and “blasted” Herrera.
My first reaction was that some media outlet had pursued Schmidt after our interview and that the Hall of Famer really cut loose on the Phillies center fielder. No, not at all. All of the ripping and blasting had happened on our show. I had no idea.
From my perspective – which includes 47 years in the media – Schmidt had raised an interesting point about players who do not speak the predominant language in a locker room. Can they truly lead if they need an interpreter? Will their message have the same impact? It seems like a reasonable point, doesn’t it?
Not in today’s media age, it doesn’t. Schmidt’s alleged ripping and blasting had degenerated on social media into a debate about whether he was a racist. Polls sprung up within hours. The greatest Phillie of all time, a man who has been in the public eye for half a century, was suddenly under assault.
By the end of the day, Schmidt called Herrera personally to explain the issue, then he issued a statement of apology, and finally, Herrera gave his response before the game that night – through an interpreter. That extra step sapped away a bit of the media drama, and, in its own ironic way, illustrated Schmidt’s original point.
Within a day or two, the media monster had moved on to its next victim, while Schmidt’s remark was stored in databases throughout the world, available at the touch of a finger to be used against him in the future.
Throughout this brushfire of a story, the real issue was completely lost. No, it isn’t whether Latin players are poor leaders, even though many navel-gazers chose that path. No, it isn’t whether the language barrier is becoming a bigger problem with so many Hispanic players in baseball. And it damn well isn’t whether Mike Schmidt is a racist.
The real issue is whether there’s any value today in an honest answer to a simple question. Schmidt gave his opinion. It was a reasonable one. He was willing to share it with the fans. And he got burned for his effort.
Someday, I’m sure my show will reach out to Mike Schmidt again to get his thoughts on the Phillies, or the Hall of Fame voting, or the pace of games, or something.
My best advice to Schmidt – and anyone else planning to provide their sincere opinions – is to tell us to go to hell.
It’s just not worth the trouble anymore.
When Marcus Smith shows up for the Eagles minicamp today – if indeed he does show up – it will be the first time he has become a focus of attention since the team’s unfortunate decision three years ago to waste a first-round draft pick on him.
What was the linebacker thinking by missing three weeks of OTA practice time with his teammates? Is he hoping to force the Eagles to cut him? Is he trying to commit career suicide?
The only real interest Smith has generated since the Eagles squandered the 26th pick in 2014 has been in his stunning inability to demonstrate any of the talents worthy of his draft status. He was less terrible last season – his third – but doesn’t figure to make the roster of a defense fortified by several big moves this off-season.
If nothing else, Smith is showing a lack of commitment that may reveal the real cause of his failure. Athletically, he appears to be fast enough, mobile enough and strong enough to make a contribution. Until now, no one ever considered his heart – because, really, nobody noticed him doing much of anything on the field.
Around the NFL, the OTAs have provided a fascinating look into the wide range of commitment by NFL players. For example, Odell Beckham Jr. blew off all three weeks to party with friends, including Johnny Manziel. His Giants teammate, Olivier Vernon, said he found it “too cold” in the Northeast this time of year.
Meanwhile. Bills cornerback Shareece Wright took an eight-hour, $932 Uber trip to make it to camp, and Packers cornerback Davon House – trapped late at night at the airport – begged on Twitter for a ride from Minnesota to Green Bay, and found two Packer fans willing to answer his desperate call.
At least those players had a logical explanation for their actions, good and bad. Beckham wants more money, Vernon is an overpaid ingrate, and Wright and House see playing in the NFL as a privilege. What is Smith’s story?
Don’t miss it because this figures to be the last time Marcus Smith will have any relevance in Philadelphia sports.
For most of my life, I have proclaimed that the best team in NBA history was the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers. This contention lost much of its power over the years as the number of those fans lucky enough to experience that extraordinary team has dwindled.
But now I have seen a team more gifted, more cohesive and far deeper than Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Wali Jones, Luke Jackson, Chet Walker and, off the bench, Billy Cunningham. As my irritating co-host on WIP, Al Morganti, likes to say, the greatest team in history won one championship in a row. (Al prefers the Celtics of that era.)
After tonight’s inevitable final flourish against the overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors will take their place as the best NBA team I’ve ever seen – if not the best pro team in any major sport.
Even now, the only real holdouts, other than the blind Michael Jordan enthusiasts, are purists who remain offended that Kevin Durant joined an already stacked club as a free agent after last season. For some reason, these fans feel there should be a limit on how many superstars a team can have, salary cap or no salary cap.
The truth is, these Warriors have every major ingredient a team needs to win. They are astonishing in the art of shooting threes, they are breathtaking in their ball movement, they can play smothering defense (when they feel like it) and they have unparalleled stamina.
Wilt or no Wilt, the ’66-67 76ers would stand no chance against these Warriors, nor would the ’82-83 Sixers, despite Julius Erving’s noble support last week. Golden State would exploit the lack of depth behind Jordan, the lack of speed on the great Detroit “Bad Boy” teams, and all of those blue-collar players during the Celtics dynasty.
What we all are witnessing right now is the greatest basketball team ever assembled, the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.
As Al Morganti would say, they are on the brink of winning one in a row.
And finally …
• Through an odd twist of fate, the Phillies have a chance to do something that captivates fans during this horrific season. With injuries to their second basemen at Triple-A and the big leagues, the most obvious response is to promote Scott Kingery from Double-A Reading. Kingery has 18 homers and, at 23, should be ready for the big jump. Will the Phils make this logical, fan-friendly move? Not a chance.
• Roman Quinn, a top prospect in the Phillies organization, scheduled a dreaded visit to Dr. James Andrews last week after suffering a serious elbow injury. At 24, Quinn could miss the rest of the season, if not more. This is precisely why the Phillies’ philosophy of keeping kids in the minors so long is stupid. Quinn should have started the season in the Phillies outfield, instead of retreads like Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. When will they learn?
• Shayne Gostisbehere had a disappointing second season with the Flyers, and yet somehow he was rewarded with a staggering six-year, $27-million deal last week. How can GM Ron Hextall be so sure about a 24-year-old defenseman who went from 17 goals in 64 games as a rookie to 7 in 76 – and from +8 to -21? Makes you wonder what Gostisbehere would have gotten if he had a good year, doesn’t it?
• Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL – a three-time Pittsburgh champion now – but he will never reach the status of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Mark Messier because he is, well, a punk. Crosby proved it again when he repeatedly shoved Nashville rival P.K. Subban’s face into the ice during a scrum behind the net in Game 5. Yes, he was provoked, but the legendary players rise above the game. Crosby never will.
• As a bonding experience, Eagles coach Doug Pederson took the entire team for a quick game of paintball last week on the final day of the OTAs. There were no reports of who won, but I’m guessing Carson Wentz fared particularly well, given all of the photos he has Tweeted of deer who fell victim to his marksmanship. In fact, I’m willing to bet Wentz would crush Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott in paintball. I’m just saying.