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On Clint Frazier and non-baseball medical concerns

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Clint Frazier took himself out of the lineup, and has been lambasted by some fans for it. That is representative of a deeper problem, not just in baseball, but in all of sports.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Let’s talk about Clint Frazier.

By now, you all know the story. Originally drafted by Cleveland with the fifth overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft, he became a member of the Yankees in 2016 as part of the Andrew Miller trade, alongside Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller, and J.P. Feyereisen. Frazier made his Major League debut a little under a year later, on July 1, 2017. The 2018 season turned into a lost year for him due to multiple concussions, while 2019 proved to be a rollercoaster. It looked like Frazier finally turned a corner in the shortened 2020, as he posted a 149 OPS+ and played solid defense, and he began 2021 as the starting left fielder.

Frazier struggled out of the gate, however, and began to lose his job to Miguel Andújar even before hitting the IL on July 1st with what was originally called “vertigo,” but may be vision issues, balance issues, neurological issues, or some combination thereof. After more than a month’s worth of tests, he began a rehab assignment last week, before finally taking himself out of the lineup this past Sunday due to the symptoms returning. Now, it’s fair to question whether he will play baseball ever again.

It’s a tragic story, really. Frazier is only 26 years old (he’ll turn 27 on September 6th). It really looked like he had finally put everything together in 2020. After all, there was nothing in his Statcast data that suggested such a massive slump was imminent — his 15.6 BB% was in the 93rd percentile, his hard-hit percentage was in the 72th percentile, his barrel percentage in the 82nd percentile, and his xwOBA in the 79th percentile. Without access to his medical records, it’s entirely fair to wonder if these symptoms have been affecting him, consciously or not, for most of the season and have thus been a major contributor to his poor performance. Like I said, it’s a tragic story.

So what in the world is wrong with people? Here’s what people had to say in response to the Pinstripe Alley social media accounts about the news that Frazier was sent back to the 60-day injured list and that his season is likely over (Twitter handles/Facebook names not included).

I get the vibe he doesn’t like the organization. I don’t think he even cares to play at this point. I think he wants out.

Told you - he’s done. Period. He’ll have fun in Pittsburgh.

Soft AF ! See ya Felicia !

His attitude and demeanor annoy so sympathy is in short supply. I never did like him.

Unfortunately, this is just a small sample; there’s plenty more than this in other corners of the internet. In truth, Frazier’s current injury situation is no longer a baseball matter, but a question of whether or not he can lead a normal life. Would you go into a hospital ward and accuse the patients of being soft, criticize their attitude and demeanor, or say that they don’t care about their job because they are receiving medical treatment? For a decent human being, the answer is a firm “No.” What makes Frazier any different, aside from the fact that the job he is trying to get back to is not teaching middle school Latin, but playing professional baseball?

Of course, there are numerous examples of players with non-baseball conditions who have returned to the game of baseball and have been celebrated by fans. Anthony Rizzo, a quick fan favorite among Yankees fans, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008 after being drafted the previous season, went through six months of chemotherapy, and returned to the diamond to become a three-time All-Star first baseman. Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, Trey Mancini would have missed the entire 2020 season with colon cancer; he has since returned to the Baltimore Orioles lineup, competed in the 2021 Home Run Derby, and is the clear favorite for the 2021 AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Both these stories, as well as others (e.g., Carlos Carrasco, Jon Lester, and more), have a happy ending though, with all four players finding success at the sport’s highest level. Frazier does not have that, but in truth, he shouldn’t need it for people to at least have some sympathy for his medical concerns. Because in the end, this isn’t just about Frazier, it’s about the entire culture surrounding non-injury medical concerns — not just on the Yankees, not even just in baseball, but in sports. How many athletes have needed some form of medical treatment, but put it off in favor of losing their role on the team to somebody else?

Rather than criticizing Frazier for taking himself out of the lineup, we should be praising him for having the foresight and — dare I say — maturity to not risk damage to either himself or his team. The Yankees, after all, did not send Frazier to a rehab assignment to build trade value for the winter; they hoped that he would be able to recapture the bat he displayed in 2020 and add it to a lineup that, even now, has struggled to score runs at an optimal level (the team’s decision to play Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield on a semi-regular basis shows that they will be flexible to put the best nine hitters in the lineup for October).

By ending his season, Frazier in essence denied himself what may be his last opportunity for regular playing time in a Yankees uniform — all because he found that he truly was not healthy enough to play. That is something to be praised.