The New York Yankees kicked off their 2017 regular season this week, so naturally the biggest news on Wednesday revolved around something that wasn't said by one of their outfielders in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. The furor kicked off when Yankees radio personality Suzyn Waldman told WFAN hosts Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts that controversial prospect Clint Frazier had asked the team—the freakin' Yankees—if they ever unretire numbers. Because, naturally, Frazier had his sights set on the No. 7 worn by another buff former Yankees outfield prospect by the name of Mickey Mantle.
It was a fantastic story, one that seemed to lose little of its heat despite the fact that it was obviously not true. The team quickly issued a statement denying it, Waldman apologized, and Frazier tweeted out a response:
The 22-year-old Frazier is highly rated by the prospect heads, though he is by no means the crown jewel of the Yankees' farm system. That honor belongs to Double-A shortstop Gleyber Torres, widely regarded as one of the top talents in the minors and perhaps the next heir in the current golden generation of shortstops. But Frazier has received arguably the most press of any Yankees minor leaguer this spring, mostly due to the kind of stupid shit that old-school baseball squares—particularly within the Yankees organization—seem to revel in.
We must begin, of course, with the hair. The headline photo in this Daily News story sums it up better than words ever could. It's long—not Jayson Werth long, but certainly "trim those sideburns, Mattingly" long—and a bright shade of red. It is noticeable, and in Yankees parlance, "noticeable" equals "distracting." He cut the hair before the end of spring training, but the damage had already been done; his touched-by-the-devil locks had drawn the dreaded "D" word from his manager.
When the team's PR Twitter feed covers your haircut, you know it has officially become a thing.
The floodgates were now open. Soon the New York Post was quoting anonymous baseball folk characterizing Frazier as being "very aware of everything going on around him," and "not the type of guy who can just come to work and block out all of the noise." The Daily News, meanwhile, opined, "There's a sense that people in the organization already have higher hopes for Blake Rutherford, the Yankees' first-round draft pick in 2015."
But the magnum opus of ham-handed harrumphing was crafted by the Post's George A. King, who criticized Frazier for, um, lifting too many weights?
"Reassigned to the minor league complex before Friday's 3-2 win over the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Frazier needs to mature mentally, get back the flexibility in his upper body which he lost by lifting too many weights during the winter, stop being seduced by the home run, keep control of that mop of red hair after hitting .228 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year in 25 games and develop a sense of understanding of where he is and for what team he plays."
"For what team he plays," indeed. The Yankees do oblivious baseball sanctimony better than any franchise east of St. Louis. What is truly amazing is that a young Bronx Bomber no longer even has to earn his first big league call-up before he earns the "doesn't respect the pinstripes" epithet. It used to be that a homegrown kid like Robinson Cano—a lightly regarded prospect who miraculously developed into a superstar player just as New York's core was starting to age out of effectiveness—could at least get a season or two in the bigs before folks like YES broadcaster Michael Kay started incessantly ripping him for not running out every routine grounder like Derek Jeter. Cano played an average of 160 games a year for the Yankees between 2007 and 2013 and helped the team to a World Series title, but could never quite shake the reputation of somehow lacking true Yankee hustle. Cano is long gone now, still mourned by (mainly young) fans who appreciate excellent play when they see it.
General manager Brian Cashman has done his best to reload on the offensive firepower the team has been lacking since Cano moved to Seattle, stockpiling the organization with potential big bats like Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Torres, and Frazier. But Frazier is unique in that many around the organization—executives, media, and even fans—will already harbor resentment toward the kid before he ever takes an at-bat in the Bronx. He might as well go full heel and find the nearest news camera to cut a pro wrestling promo demanding the number of Mantle, or Ruth, or (if he really wants to piss off Baby Boomer fans) Thurman Munson. It doesn't really matter at this point; Frazier may be plying his trade in Scranton, but he is already being cast as a villain in New York.