TORONTO — Through good or bad over his 20 years as a Yankee, Derek Jeter would stand at his locker in the clubhouse after games to account for his performance. He rarely said a lot, but he showed up for that part of his duties as a major league player, and as the captain of the team.
“Part of being a big-league player and part of playing here is we want our guys to always respond when you certainly play a specific role in the ballgame, and that’s part of being a pro and being a big league ballplayer with the New York Yankees,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said before Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
That backdrop cast an even harsher spotlight on the behavior of Clint Frazier, an outfielder still trying to establish himself in the major leagues, after he had the worst defensive game of his career on Sunday. He avoided reporters after that game, an 8-5 loss to the Red Sox, and largely doubled down on Tuesday, when he faced them all for the first time since the defeat.
“I didn’t feel like I needed to stand in front of everyone and explain myself,” Frazier, 24, said. “The plays were what they were. I sucked. I lost us the game. Everyone knew that I did wrong. And that’s what it came down to.”
During an eight-minute session with reporters, Frazier was both defiant and remorseful for skipping out on the news media and leaving it to teammates to speak for him.
“I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation, because it’s not a rule that I have to speak,” he said initially.
While it is technically not a rule, the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the players’ union encourages speaking with reporters, as a way of keeping fans informed. “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,” reads Section 7 of the agreement.
Frazier isn’t the first Yankee to avoid reporters: In April 2011, closer Rafael Soriano dodged reporters after blowing a save for the Yankees. The following day, he heard from his agent, Scott Boras, who had spoken to Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager, and Randy Levine, the team’s president. Manager Joe Girardi later reminded Soriano that he had responsibilities beyond the mound.
But in the Bronx, such a maneuver is still a rarity. All teams encourage their players to speak to reporters, but it is more acute with the high-profile Yankees, who subject their players to intense media training.
Later in his interview session on Tuesday, Frazier acknowledged that he should have addressed his poor play in right field rather than leaving it to his teammates.
“I don’t want them to have to speak for me,” said Frazier, who also avoided reporters when he landed on the injured list earlier this season. “But I also want to be on the same page as everyone in there, so I should’ve been standing in front of my locker.”
Frazier’s hitting (.272 with 10 home runs and 28 runs batted in entering Tuesday’s game) has helped the Yankees weather injuries that have knocked out a wide swath of their roster this season, and his bat has largely compensated for his shortcomings in the outfield. In the fourth inning Tuesday, after his meeting with reporters, he hit his 11th homer of the season, a two-run shot.
But Frazier’s struggles in the field have been puzzling considering his age and athleticism. He said on Tuesday that he felt that his offensive contributions were being forgotten because of his defense.
Frazier missed vital development time last season because of a concussion that kept him out for most of the year.
“I’m trying to stay on that field, and when I play the way that I did in the outfield, it’s probably going to lessen my time that I get to stay on that field,” said Frazier, who was in the designated hitter spot on Tuesday.
Frazier, who has been praised by Boone for his hard work in trying to improve, said he struggled to stay composed on Sunday and heard the boos from fans. Although Frazier insisted he was just as confident on defense as at the plate, it is clear his fielding woes have become a mental hurdle. Boone said it was part of the team’s responsibility to help Frazier.
“I needed a pat on the back,” Frazier said. “I’m working as hard as I can. It’s difficult.”
He also took issue on Tuesday with the way he had been covered by the news media over the years, including attention in 2017 to the fact that his hair did not conform to the Yankees’ policy and a disputed claim that he had requested Mickey Mantle’s jersey number during his first big league spring training.
“My entire life I’ve always kind of been different and struggled to fit in because people perceive me a certain way,” he said.
That has been magnified since he joined the Yankees as a highly regarded prospect in a 2016 trade with the Cleveland Indians. He can be more brash than the average Yankee, he enjoys fashion and loves talking about sneakers and his customized cleats.
He said he felt more comfortable being himself with the Yankees this season than ever before, but acknowledged the effects of his performance during and after the game on Sunday.
“I know that I let them down by not standing in front of the media,” Frazier said. “But I let them down more so by my defensive performance.”
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