One of the most common question fans ask sportswriters is which athletes are the nicest. And it makes sense. You invest so much of yourself rooting that it’s nice to know your attention is merited and at least has the possibility of being appreciated and reciprocated. No one wants to admire a jerk.
The easiest answer is that hockey players are the best. We don’t know if it has anything to do with upbringing or the nature of their sport, but they are traditionally the most approachable, the kindest and by far the most patient with the media. The NHL is just super to cover.
On the other end of the spectrum are Major League Baseball players. Although there are many exceptions, they seem to be the short-tempered ones, the guys usually with no time to talk or nothing especially enlightening to say.
We attribute it to the ungodly amount of time the media spends around players before and after games. It’s frankly too much and its doesn’t take long before each side tires of the other, the conversation strains or becomes banal and distrust ferments.
We bring this up because of a problem Clint Frazier, a young outfielder with the New York Yankees, is having with the media. And when an athlete has a problem with the New York media, everyone around the country tends to hear about it.
If you watched the Yankees-Red Sox game last Sunday night, you’ll recall Frazier had a miserable time in right field. He bungled three balls that led to runs and directly resulted in Boston’s win.
After games, good or bad, its customary for ballplayers to stand in front of their locker and deal with the consequences by allowing themselves to be questioned. It’s considered the classy thing to do, the professional way to conduct yourself, especially in the Yankee clubhouse where Derek Jeter set the example of decorum during his years as team captain.
Well, Frazier refused to speak after what he later called “the most difficult game of my professional career in the outfielder. And the New York media freaked out.
Frazier was characterized as unprofessional and insubordinate, a malcontent, someone whose opinion of himself was too far too high. There was speculation the Yankees didn’t condone his general approach to the game and that we was unpopular with his teammates and might be on the trading block.
It’s all been pretty surreal, the talk of the town’s newspapers and sports talk radio stations for the last 72 hours.
So on Tuesday, before the Yankees opened their series in Toronto, Frazier stood in front of his stall and acquiesced. But he didn’t say what the media wanted to hear.
“No, I don’t regret it. 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 said.
Theoretically, he is correct. Within the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and ownership is this reminder: “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.”
It says nothing about being mandatory and there have been thousands of times over the years when a player has ignored the request of his team’s media relations department by refusing to speak after a game.
What made this so usual was Frazier’s age (24), lack of experience and standing with the club. In other words, he wasn’t big enough yet to stiff the media like Eddie Murray made a career doing.
“The plays were what they were. I sucked,” Frazier said Tuesday, before hitting a fourth-inning, two-run homer in the Yankees loss. “I lost us the game. Everyone knew what I did wrong, and that’s what it came down to.
“I knew the people that I should have spoken to, I did, and that’s where I went. I didn’t feel like I needed to stand in front of everyone and explain myself.”
After Tuesday’s game, Frazier came out again to answer questions and his press conference lasted an uncomfortable 31 seconds, consisting or two questions and a long period of silence.
The bottom line: Frazier was not right, but he was not wrong in what he did. But he will need to learn in time how to play the media game if he’s going to survive in New York. Once the media figures they know what kind of person he is, and it’s not an accommodating one, it takes a lot of fence-mending to change the perception.
Frazier did speak to ESPN shortly after the Yankees’ stadium departure on Sunday night.
“I’ve been working really hard every day with [outfield coach] Reggie [Willits] before batting practice starts, and despite what has been happening during the game, I’m still confident in myself to be able to turn this around soon,” Frazier told ESPN. “It’s tough to cost the team runs and a potential win, especially when playing at home against Boston. Things keep happening that shouldn’t, and I’m acknowledging all that with all of the early work I’m doing before games.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone, the former ESPN personality, was just one of those in the organization that pulled Frazier aside in an effort to set him straight and calm the situation.
“We talked a little bit [Tuesday] about certain things and expectations and things like that, but I’ll keep it at that,” Boone said.
“Part of being a big league player, and certainly part of playing here is we want our guys to always respond when you play a specific role in a ballgame. That’s part of being a pro, and being a big league ballplayer and being a New York Yankee.
“Those are the things that are part of the growing process that we go through with a lot of our guys.”
Another thing that happens when a player refuses to speak to the media is it forces his teammates to answer the questions for him. And that really bothers some guys.
“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. Since I got traded over here, some stories came out that shouldn’t have. 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.
“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 bit harder for me to navigate every day, and I’m trying to be myself in here. And sometimes it feels like people have an issue with me just being myself. It’s been difficult; it’s been hard. My entire life, I’ve always kind of been different and struggled to fit 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.”