Since the day the Yankees traded Andrew Miller and received Clint Frazier in return, I have been fearful Frazier would get a full-time major league opportunity and realize his potential with a team other than the Yankees. Between the Yankees’ full roster and lineup, owed salary to established and veteran players, potential trades for starting pitching and Frazier’s own injuries, there has always seemed like too many obstacles in his way of becoming an everyday player for the Yankees.
This season, Frazier has once again been given a chance to prove his worth at the major league level and show off the “legendary bat speed” Brian Cashman has raved about since acquiring the outfielder. Due to injuries to Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, Frazier has been a regular in the lineup and outside of a quick trip to the injured list for a sprained ankle he initially played through and wanted to keep playing through (I commended him for not wanting to go on the injured list), Frazier has performed … at the plate. He’s hit 10 home runs in 41 games, a 40-home run pace over 162 games, and is batting .272/.319/.517. He’s single-handedly won games for the Yankees with his bat and nearly did so again on Tuesday night when his two-run home run in Toronto felt like it might be the difference until Masahiro Tanaka had what’s becoming a routine letdown and meltdown inning in the middle of each start. Offense isn’t the problem with Frazier and never has been. The defense is another story.
Early in the season, Frazier made some questionable dive attempts and looked uncomfortable playing left field in Houston. It was understandable for someone with less than a half season of major league experience to his name playing with the weird, quirky dimensions of MinuteMaid Park and the extremely close left-field wall, which feels like it’s on top of the infield. But over the last couple months, the Houston mishaps have proven to not be an anomaly, but the norm for Frazier, who frequently misreads, misjudges and misplays balls no matter which outfield corner he’s in. It’s unbelievable to think the Yankees trusted him to play center field for an entire game last season.
On Sunday Night Baseball, Frazier had the worst defensive game of his life, and it all unfolded in one inning against the Red Sox on national TV. Some have blamed Frazier for single-handedly losing the game, but I don’t, since the Yankees were already losing when his most egregious error happened, and he didn’t fail to catch any truly catchable balls, he just misplayed what were already hits. If you want to blame someone for the Red Sox’ 3-2 lead increasing to 8-2, blame Luis Cessa who was the one throwing batting practice.
The embarrassing seventh inning was only the second worst part of Frazier’s night. After the game, he decided to leave the Stadium without addressing his performance to the media. Again, he wasn’t the reason the Yankees lost the game, but in New York, if Reliever X gives up five runs in the ninth inning and then leaves the bases loads for Reliever Y, and Reliever Y comes in and throws one pitch, resulting in a walk-off grand slam, the media wants to talk to Reliever Y even if Reliever X was to blame for the loss. Because Frazier’s defensive mistakes were so obvious the media waited for him, while Cessa was able to get dressed and go unbothered, despite retiring only three of the nine batters he faced and giving up five earned runs as he continues to prove he has no place on this team.
Frazier could have stood in the clubhouse and talked about how he is working tirelessly before every game with Judge and Reggie Willits to become a better outfielder. He could talk about how he knows he has to be better and that his defense has been embarrassing and unacceptable. It would have taken a few minutes for him to act like a major leaguer and hold himself accountable and then that would be that. Some stories and blogs would be written about his defense and some angry sports radio callers would shout about wanting to trade him for a rental pitcher and that would be that. Instead, Frazier chose to leave the Stadium, let his teammates answers for his defensive lapses and turned a story about his poor defense into one about his character, personality and demeanor as a person, player and professional.
After the story got out that Frazier didn’t speak with the media, the off day for the Yankees only let the story build steam. On sports radio and social media, no one was talking about Cessa’s latest letdown, the Yankees failing to really destroy the Red Sox’ season with a sweep or the Yankees’ need of Dallas Keuchel. No one was even really talking about Frazier’s defense. The conversation was now about unmeasurable traits with people voicing their opinion on Frazier as if they know him as a person or have any sort of relationship with him other than watching him play baseball every night. According to the general public, the Yankees could either bench Frazier (which would give more at-bats to Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin or Kendrys Morales) send Frazier down (which would do the same as benching him) or trade him for a rental starter (because you should always jettison a 24-year-old with middle-of-the-order potential for not speaking with the media, especially when his reputation and stock are an all-time low).
Frazier did make himself available to speak with the media before Tuesday night’s game, and I’m sure he was properly prepared by Cashman, Jason Zillo (Yankees Vice President of Communications and Media Relations) and Aaron Boone. But Cashman, Zillo and Boone wouldn’t be able to hold Frazier’s hand in front of the media, all they could was trust Frazier would apologize and put an end to the story. I’m sure Zillo wasn’t thrilled when Frazier opened his mouth.
“No, I don’t regret it,” Frazier said. “And to be fair, I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation, because it’s not a rule that I have to speak.”
Frazier could have stepped up and realized he will never win a war with the media or fans and apologized for not doing his part as a major leaguer, which is stated in Section 7 of the collectively bargained Major League Baseball Players Association’s media guidelines, which states, “It is very important to our game that ALL players are available to the media for reasonable periods and it is the player’s responsibility to cooperate.” He had a chance to make things right, and he did somewhat, but he also doubled down on his decision to skip out on addressing his Sunday night performance.
“The plays were what they were,” Frazier said. “I sucked.”
See how easy that was? Had Frazier opened with that or had just said that on Sunday night, this situation doesn’t exist.
“I lost us the game,” Frazier said. “Everyone knew what I did wrong, and that’s what it came down to.”
Look how easy this is! New York fans love when players admit they sucked and ruined a game! Though Frazier didn’t lose the game, as I said earlier. What he did during the game wasn’t wrong, it was unfortunate and unexpected. What he did after the game is what was wrong.
Frazier then made amends with his teammates for his Irish exit from the Stadium, which led to them answering questions on his behalf.
“I don’t want them to have to speak for me, but I also want to be on the same page as everyone in there,” Frazier said. “I should have been standing in front of my locker.”
Just as things were going well, and the media and some of its entitled members felt like the major leaguer had given a worthy apology, Frazier started to spiral out of control, going back on his word and taking things in an unexpected direction. Somewhere, Zillo was probably trying to have the power turned off in Rogers Centre in Toronto.
“Since I got traded over here, it’s been some stories that came out that shouldn’t have came out,” Frazier said. “And it’s difficult, because the way that I’m perceived by people is not how I think that I really am. I don’t feel like it’s been fair at times, and I don’t owe an apology for not talking.”
The Yankees go through media training during spring training and I have to think the first rule is to talk about the game, not yourself. It makes for cookie-cutter and cliché answers for the media and fans, but the Yankees don’t give a crap how it sounds as long as they don’t have an unnecessary PR nightmare to deal with. Frazier was about to give them that nightmare, using the perception of him as a player, stories written about him by the media and comments made by broadcasters as some sort of excuse for his disappearing act on Sunday. He had quickly taken back his apology, using his treatment since becoming a Yankee as the reason why.
Zillo was either drinking scotch directly from the bottle at this point or an ambulance was being called to assist him. Frazier had gone off the handle, talking about things in no way related to him playing right field like he’s drunk and then not talking about it immediately after the game.
“I know I don’t fit the mold of what some of the past and current Yankees are like, and that may be why it’s a little harder for me to navigate every day, and I’m trying to be myself here,” Frazier said. “And sometimes it feels like people have an issue with me just being myself.”
Can someone give me an update on the health status of Zillo? Frazier could have stopped at saying he sucked and his teammates shouldn’t have to answer for him. But he kept going and going and going and now his media absence had become about him possibly being forced to cut his hair like every other Yankee since George Steinbrenner purchased the team in 1973 or potentially because he has red hair, which not many people, let alone Yankees have. Either that or he was upset the right-field bleachers turned on him on Sunday night after his outfield play as if he’s the first Yankee to ever be ridiculed by the home crowd for a poor performance?
“It’s been difficult, it’s been hard,” Frazier said. “My entire life, I’ve always kind of been different and struggled to hit in because people perceive me a certain way. It was, whenever I was younger, the only thing that I felt like kept me relevant was baseball.”
Seriously, someone give me an update on Zillo! Frazier was going even deeper. All anyone wanted was for Frazier to say what he said at the beginning and that was enough. Somehow him playing the outfield poorly and not answering questions about it turned into a conversation about him not fitting in his whole life. All I want from Frazier is to not dive for uncatchable balls and to prevent balls that hit the outfield grass from rolling to the wall. That’s all I want. Not this mess.
This is officially a mess, and unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere. During Tuesday’s game on social media, baseball reporters from all markets were chiming in to call out Frazier for not showing up on Sunday and then for giving a half-hearted apology and taking that heart-hearted apology back. One ESPN reporter went so far as to tweet a picture of Frazier approaching the dugout after his two-run home run, saying his teammates looked like they weren’t celebrating with him. I know where this is going. Frazier’s defense will now be watched extra carefully and any miscue will be magnified, the way Gary Sanchez’s passed balls and hustle are, and Frazier’s relationships in the clubhouse will be speculated upon after he let his teammates answer for him.
Frazier’s bat is too good and valuable to give up on because of his defense and because he went out the back door of the clubhouse one night. The Yankees need his bat and they need him to improve defensively because Gardner’s abilities are no longer those of an everyday player, and next year the Yankees are going to need to fill the void left by Gardner. (Unless they decide to once again re-sign him to a one-year deal in the first minute of free agency.) Frazier has the chance to earn an everyday spot on the Yankees for the rest of this season and future seasons and only his play should determine that. Hopefully, only his play will determine that.
I believe in Frazier and want to see him succeed as a Yankee the way I always have, though his defense will need to improve for that to happen. For now, his bat can do the talking for him on the field, as long as his mouth is there when needed to do it off the field.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!