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The Yankees don’t need fake controversies

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There are always Yankees’ stories to report. Numbers and hair aren’t among them.

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MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Two nights ago, yet another Yankees’ “controversy” arose. After the Yankees traded for Todd Frazier, there was a question of which number he would wear in pinstripes. This was humored most famously by trade-deadline acquisition Brandon McCarthy in 2014, who said picking a number was as ridiculous as Seinfeld’s Kramer running Moviefone.

Frazier came up with 21, the number of Yankees hero Paul O’Neill. The report first came up that he would actually ask O’Neill for his permission, yet his number wasn’t retired. That didn’t go over well with Yankees fans. A ton of them took to Twitter, stating that only The Warrior was fit to wear said number. MLB.com writer Mark Feinsand had to quell the masses with a tweet:

The fact this is a controversy, or that an actual baseball writer had to address this, is profoundly insane. I would even guess this had an effect on Frazier himself, because he ended up choosing number 29, possibly to avoid the scrutiny. There are quite a few pressing matters with the Yankees that are much more important: the recent trade acquisitions, the impending trade deadline, injuries, top prospects, and Aaron Judge.

Yet, this isn’t the first non-story. There was the fabricated controversy that Clint Frazier wanted the number seven, and he ended up with 77. And, there was another Frazier controversy, the hair incident of spring training.

Gary Sanchez was chided for a game where he exhibited poor hustle and poor defense, and then it was totally negated by the fact Joe Girardi didn’t really care if he was just pacing himself. Gleyber Torres, who is recovering from injury, was benched in the spring for “perceived lack of hustle.” And who can forget the two most ridiculous story lines of the year: Randy Levine’s criticism of Dellin Betances, and the anonymous criticism of Greg Bird.

This, despite the last month, is a very exciting season. Judge has literally become the face of baseball overnight. He has certainly gotten his due, so I’m not going to argue he was ignored in place of these scandals. It is curious, however, that these stories take up so much column space. It’s even more puzzling that these controversies exist at all.

The issue is two-fold: First, the Yankees love the drama. As much as they claim to act classy and businesslike, they’re an organization that demands respect for the pinstripes or whatever, and they’ll dole out respect on their end when they please. If you shut up and do everything you’re supposed to do, you’ll get a curt compliment in the press, or possibly more if you’re like Judge.

If a player says the wrong thing, looks at someone funny, acts goofy, wears his hair fashionably, then he’ll get an anonymous source in the tabloids saying the brass is unhappy with his attitude. This has no actual effect on the product on the field, yet the Yankees deem it important for whatever reason. This then forces players, who are under enough pressure already, to address the concerns — as Bird had to — just to put the story to bed.

That leads into the second issue, which is the press. It’s a shock to no one that the New York press loves to report salacious material. Think about how Odell Beckham’s boating and Matt Harvey’s partying are an actual part of the sports vernacular, but this generates hits. That’s what they need.

The fact is that in the post-Alex Rodriguez world, the New York media actually desires controversy. If it doesn’t exist, they’ll make it appear out of nowhere. There needs to be heroes and villains, faces and heels, and momentum of character, either from failure to redemption or vice-versa. Not only can a player’s statistics not be static, but their personalities can’t be static, either.

That is the case — people do ebb and flow in their behavior, especially at such a young age -— but the press has a habit of creating personality traits that may or may not exist. While those characteristics, real or imaginary, could have impact on the games, the stories do. They dog players, and they make the daily slog of baseball harder.

There are a lot of storylines in baseball, real ones that are sometimes light-hearted and interesting, and sometimes as weighty as domestic violence. Color me shocked that the tabloids dance around the latter while embracing the former nonsense. The Yankees have their fair share of controversies, and there are fascinating plot points, good and bad, to focus on. Jerseys aren’t one of them, and neither is hair.