Herrera addresses teammates, makes debut

March 3rd, 2021

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- stood in front of his teammates on Tuesday at TD Ballpark and said a few words.

He spoke because he felt he needed to say something before he played for the Phillies for the first time since his May 2019 arrest in Atlantic City, N.J., on a charge of simple assault of his girlfriend, Melany Martinez-Angulo. The charge against Herrera was dismissed, but Major League Baseball suspended Herrera 85 games for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy. The organization removed Herrera from the 40-man roster in Jan. 2020. After he completed counseling sessions in Philadelphia and donated to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Phillies had Herrera in Minor League camp last spring.

He has a chance this spring to earn a spot on the Phillies’ Opening Day roster.

Not everybody believes he deserves a chance. Herrera knows it.

“I feel sorry because I made a big mistake,” he told reporters on a Zoom call. “I know some people are not going to forgive me and I understand that. But I spent the last three years earning Melany’s trust back and I am grateful because she forgave me. Now I would like to have the same opportunity with my teammates, our fans and the Phillies family.”

The feelings about Herrera inside the Phillies’ clubhouse are mixed. Many are open to Herrera receiving a second opportunity. Some players responded well to his address in Dunedin. Others are not interested in his return at all.

It is not an issue yet.

It could be in a few weeks, especially if Herrera plays well. He played well Tuesday. He went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit single to right field, one stolen base, one run scored and a couple nice plays in right field in a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

“I can't tell you it's 100 percent, but they'd be willing [to give him a second chance],” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “If he handles himself and does things. Nobody has said, ‘Oh, we shouldn't be doing this.’ I don't think it will be a distraction. But I think it will be how he handles himself. He has to earn the trust back of his teammates.”

Phillies manager Joe Girardi anticipated Herrera’s presence in camp could cause friction in the clubhouse, so he called a few players in the offseason to get their feelings about it. He also called his former skipper Joe Torre, who managed Girardi for four seasons with the Yankees.

Domestic abuse is an important issue for Torre, who is the Special Assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred. Torre and his four siblings witnessed domestic violence firsthand in their home growing up. Torre started the Safe at Home Foundation. The charity’s mission is to “educate to end the cycle of domestic violence and save lives.”

“If someone is understanding that what they’re doing is not the right thing to do, I think we all really deserve a second chance to rehabilitate,” Torre told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2019.

“The most important thing that I took away from the conversations [with Torre] is that the person has to have remorse,” Girardi said. “If a person has remorse, he has a chance to grow. And I think from everything I know about Odúbel … knowing the steps that he’s taken, I think he does have remorse. Now, the one thing is that time’s going to tell. You can have a press conference, you can have a press release, his actions are always going to speak louder, right? He has to grow from it.”

Herrera and Martinez-Angulo remain together as a couple. They are living together this spring in Clearwater.

“I feel more mature,” Herrera said. “I have changed a lot with my personality. I’m a better person now.”

Some who have spent time with Herrera since his arrest or even this spring say they see a difference. But the Phillies know others will never get past what he did.

“There’s an understanding that, and understandably so, that some individuals will never forgive,” Dombrowski said. “And we understand that. Major League Baseball understands that. But also, there’s a strong sentiment that when you start talking to individual groups, that if people follow through with what they are supposed to do that they deserve a second chance.”

The Phillies are giving him one. They cited the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which does not allow teams to punish a player following a suspension, meaning they cannot release Herrera unless it is for baseball reasons. A baseball argument could have been made. Herrera batted .249 with a .711 OPS and 89 OPS+ from 2018-19 before the suspension. He has not played baseball in a long time, but the Phillies are paying him $10 million this season with a $2.5 million buyout on a 2021 club option.

“We had some individuals that thought that he could compete if he was given an opportunity to make the Major League club,” Dombrowski said. “And they felt as long as he was compliant with the other things that he deserved that opportunity.”

Herrera did not speak to everybody on Tuesday. He spoke only to the players and coaches that made the trip. Many of the team’s biggest stars, including Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins were not there.

Herrera said he would like to speak to everybody at some point.

Asked if he thinks he is as good a player or better than two years ago, Herrera said, “Better player now. It’s good to be a better player and better person.”