The Unforeseen Challenge: Odubel Herrera and Latin American Players Assimilating into MLB


It seems that every week another news story is published regarding the difficulties international players have assimilating with their American teammates.  These conflicts stem from cultural differences, a language barrier, or a lack of exposure into American culture.

Recently, first ballot Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt discussed how Philadelphia Phillies star outfielder, Odubel Herrera, cannot be the face of the team because he cannot speak English:

“My honest answer to that would be no because of a couple of things,.” Schmidt said. “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.’ Just can’t be — because of the language barrier — that kind of a player.”

Yet I believe Herrera not only has the talent to be a future MVP, but his swagger and style of play makes him worthy to be the center of the Phillies or any MLB team. Many baseball scouts predict Herrera to perform at the same level of former MVP’s Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in the near future.  However, Herrera has not produced big numbers yet and has only shown glimpses of his true potential. So is Mike Schmidt wrong when he said Herrera cannot be the face of an organization because his ethnic background?  To this point, Herrera has shown inconsistency, but also moments of flare that has excited fans across the country.

Herrera is a member of the “Make Baseball Fun Again” movement. His huge leg kick, bat flip, and tendency to crash into walls makes him one of the more entertaining players to watch. Around baseball, he’s joined by other exciting young stars such as Harper, Trout, Carlos Correa, and Aaron Judge, who not only are considered to be the nucleus of their respective organizations, but representatives of Major League Baseball. Of all the reasons why Harper, Trout, Correa, and Judge play the greatest sport on the planet, fun is near the top of the list. Consistently, these players put on a show and leave you feeling the price of admission was worth it. If it’s a 450+ foot homerun, a diving play in the outfield, or a bat flip, baseball is definitely fun to watch again.

What if we look at this from Herrera’s point of view?  At twenty-two years old, the Venezuelan center fielder was signed as a free agent for 5 years and $30.5 million guaranteed, with an additional $24 million in incentives to the Phillies.  That’s big money for an international free agent, and it can lead to some complacency, even though other phenom’s like Correa and Judge are still producing MVP-caliber seasons. Yet in a sport where players sign lavish contracts, players like Herrera have only cost their respective teams roughly 1.5% of total team payroll. Sure, these players are still on their rookie contract, but until they sign lucrative deals down the road, they’ll cost very little.

If Herrera is going to be the great player the Phillies organization and all baseball fans expect him to be — let him be.  Baseball haters say baseball is too slow or is boring – so why not support the players that light up the field?

In recent weeks, several articles were published highlighting the difficulties non-English proficient international players had assimilating with either their teammates, coaches, or fans.   Thus, the respective utilities for both the individual, and the team, diminishes.  This past Spring, I wrote my economics thesis on team chemistry in Major League Baseball.  Of the many parameters I used to quantify team chemistry, percentage of internationally born players on a roster is directly related.  I discussed some of the hardships international players experience when coming to the United States to play baseball. If you’d like to check out my full study of team chemistry in Major League Baseball:

The Overlooked Element: An Empirical Analysis of Team Chemistry and Winning Percentage in Major League Baseball

Posted in MLB

Posted by Mando

Co-Founder of Check Down Sports. Die-hard Boston sports fan: Patriots, Celtics, Bruins- in that order. I haven't been that interested in the Red Sox since they traded Manny. If you're a fan of Leslie Nielson movies and/or think Entourage is overrated, we'll get along.

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