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Todd Frazier’s value goes beyond the field

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Todd Frazier is helping the Yankees reach the playoffs, one thumbs down at a time.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

With ticket in hand, a man heads from his home in Queens to Citi Field. An avid Mets fan, he settles into his second row seats, ready to take in another game at his favorite ballpark. This one wouldn’t be like the others, though. Instead of the Amazin’s, he was watching a relocation game between the Yankees and the Rays.

Maybe it was curiosity that sent him to the stadium. Maybe it was a chance to defend his home turf against an intruding herd of pinstriped enemies. Maybe it was just to watch a baseball game. Whatever the driving force, there he sat. When a Yankees newcomer stepped to the plate and belted a three-run homer in his park, he knew he had to act.

A simple “boo” would fall quiet amongst the cheers. A middle finger was probably a little too far. Then, it hit him. He stuck out his arm and gave the ol’ thumbs down. Emotionless, he held his position, letting Todd Frazier know exactly what he thought of his moonshot. At that moment, he couldn’t have known that he would be gifting his lifelong rivals with a rally cry that would carry them down the stretch, barreling towards the playoffs.

Thumbs Down Guy, as he’s come to be know, is just a guy in a crowd who hates the Yankees. He’s not responsible for the thumbs down obsession that has overtaken the Bronx. That honor belongs to Todd Frazier. He claims that Aaron Judge told him to own it, but in the end, it was Frazier who took a silly bit of criticism and created a phenomenon.

That’s the effect that Frazier has had on the Yankees since his midseason arrival from the Chicago White Sox. A New Jersey native, he left a last place team to come home and play for a young, energetic squad in the postseason hunt. He joined the fun immediately. On the latest Players’ Tribune “R2C2” podcast, CC Sabathia talks about how Frazier is the best guy on the team to talk to during a game. He became such a favorite that Sabathia surprised the whole team with Todd Frazier blankets and pillows.

Now, inspired by George R.R. Mets-man, he has given the team, the fans, and the media their new rally monkey. The thumbs down emoji is the perfect way to show team pride. Everyone can do it. It works in the stands. It works in texts. It works on signs, tweets, and across the diamond. If you’re on the outside, it looks bizarre and counterintuitive. If you’re a part of the in-group, it’s the new punch buggy. It’s the kind of thing that keeps the tone light in the most pressure-filled situations.

If the thumbs down was the only thing Frazier gave New York this season, it would be enough. His play down the stretch, however, has helped bolster the Bombers’ playoff chances as they try to keep the charmed Red Sox from breaking away. On the season, he is batting .212/.345/.431. Over the last few weeks, though, he has started to pick up the pace. In the past 15 games, those numbers improve to .233/.433/.581. That equates to a 1.015 OPS, drastically higher than his .776 OPS on the season.

When every remaining game is mission critical, that’s the kind of elevated offense the team needs. Frazier has been just as successful with the glove this year, boasting a 5.6 UZR and making impressive picks at the hot corner to take away some extra base hits. It’s that combination of offensive and defensive prowess that has given him an edge over Chase Headley in recent weeks.

The Yankees are entering the final stretch with a corner infield glut, but Frazier has managed to hold his everyday position. With the rotating cast of Frazier, Headley, Greg Bird, and Matt Holliday, Joe Girardi has his options and will certainly exercise them. When push comes to shove, whoever has the hottest bat will likely get the nod. For now, Frazier has been that hot bat.

Whether he’s putting runs on the board or thumbs down photobombing teammates’ interviews, the Toddfather has proven his worth. It started with a baseball aficionado driving from his home to his stadium to show a loud, proud thumbs down to the world. Yankees fans hope it will end the same, with Frazier following in Thumbs Down Guy’s footsteps, deep into October.