Braves broadcaster Joe Simpson stuck his foot in his mouth last week, ranting on air about the Dodgers’ lack of professionalism because some Dodgers players, including Chase Utley, took batting practice in t-shirts and short pants. Simpson promptly apologized… in private… to a Braves official. And the matter was mostly forgotten about.
Simpson, however, couldn’t resist sticking his foot in his mouth again on Tuesday during the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader between the Braves and Nationals. Outfielder Juan Soto was at the plate with the Nats leading 8-2. Simpson said, “[Soto] is — if he’s 19 — he has certainly got his man growth. He is big and strong.” Here’s a link to a clip of Simpson saying that.
Puberty in boys typically ends around 17-18 years old, though they can continue growing into their mid-20’s. The implication is that Soto — listed at 6’1″, 185 pounds — is too big for his age. That’s not supported by any evidence whatsoever. Even if Simpson wanted to justify that comment on air, he couldn’t have. According to CDC data, a 185-pound 19-year-old would be in about the 85th percentile for weight. A 73-inch-tall 19-year-old would be around the 90th percentile. Soto is above-average in size but is he abnormally big? That’s a no.
Soto was born in the Dominican Republic and Major League Baseball has seen some cases where foreign-born players have lied about their age. The most famous case was Danny Almonte, from the D.R., who lied about his age in order to play in the Little League World Series. Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona), Rafael Furcal, and Miguel Tejada — all from the D.R. — lied about their age as well.
However, there has been absolutely no evidence and not even a hint of suspicion that Soto is lying about his age. It is prejudice, plain and simple, to believe that just because Soto was born in the Dominican Republic, he may be lying about his age. If Soto were white, Simpson would not have been skeptical in the slightest.
Soto is having a historically great rookie season. Coming into Tuesday’s action, he was batting .310/.424/.556 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI in 278 plate appearances. He went 2-for-2 with three walks and an RBI in game one. In game two, he hit a solo home run to the opposite field off of Sean Newcomb in the first inning and is 1-for-3 on the night as of this writing.
Major League Baseball wonders why it’s having trouble attracting a younger, more diverse audience. Part of the reason why is because broadcasters like Simpson don’t make the game enjoyable to watch. Rather than lift players up, he tries to knock them down. Baseball needs more enthusiastic young, non-white (and non-male) broadcasters in the booth and fewer angry old white guys like Simpson.
Update (10:17 PM ET): Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that Nationals GM Mike Rizzo confronted Simpson about his comments between the first and second games of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Rizzo said, “I had a definite reaction. I handled it face to face, privately with him. I believe he understood my stance on his comments.”
Simpson didn’t exactly apologize, but he added some clarification during the broadcast for game two. He said, “If you were with us in Game 1, you might have heard me make a comment off the top of my head about if he’s 19. Well, he is. He’s bonafide 19. And he is a full-grown man. He is strong. And he is one heck of a player. You might well just write his name on the Rookie of the Year award right now.”