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The Off-Season: Putting Things in Perspective

The Off-Season: Putting Things in Perspective

by Tim Kabel

December 16, 2021


I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about for this article. I was probably going to write something about the lockout or potential Yankees’ roster moves once the lockout finally ends. There really isn’t much else to write about. There are no actual moves to discuss. We are looking out over a stagnant pond with large swaths of algae. Then, I read an article that made me think. It was an article about an interview Clint Frazier gave on Bar Stool’s Short Porch podcast.

I realize many Yankees’ fans, players, and ex-players are sick of Clint Frazier. They view him as something of a modern-day version of Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, a moody, self-aggrandizing, overly chatty redhead. At this point, most people want him to simply go away and stop talking. However, in this interview, he revealed certain aspects of his time with the Yankees and particularly, the conclusion of his tenure that are worth exploration.

The end of Clint Frazier’s Yankees’ career was shrouded in mystery. No one knew exactly what happened to him. We heard about dizziness, possible vertigo, vision problems and even residual effects from his concussions. He has now disclosed that he suffered from mental health issues. He did not reveal his exact diagnosis. Nor does he have to. That information should remain between him, whoever is treating him, and his family. It is his information, not ours. However, the fact that he struggled with mental health issues and is now discussing it is noteworthy. There is a certain segment of our society that has little tolerance for issues such as this. They believe that professional athletes are paid a king’s ransom and should therefore “suck it up and play.” It’s not always that easy.

In my career in Child Protective Services, I have seen innumerable mental health issues. I’m not about to try to diagnose Clint Frazier. That would serve no purpose. The point is it is a serious and legitimate issue. Mental health issues can be as debilitating as physical injuries. In many cases, they can be even worse, because they are harder to diagnose and to treat. A pulled muscle is straightforward. Issues such as anxiety, depression, and others are more elusive. Whatever Clint Frazier’s actual diagnosis, the fact that it has been identified as something within the mental health field is encouraging. There are many treatments that are available to him, and millions of others like him.

In 1980, J. R. Richard, the late Houston Astros’ pitcher, was on top of the world. That season he had thrown three consecutive complete-game shutouts. He was an amazing pitcher. However, in the middle of the season, he began complaining about a dead arm. Very few people took him seriously. He was accused of malingering or being petty and jealous of his teammate, Nolan Ryan. On July 30th, 1980, Richard suffered a stroke and collapsed while playing catch before a game. It was caused by a blood clot in his neck. His Major League career ended suddenly, at the age of 30. The lesson here is to treat athletes with respect and to take their medical concerns whether they are physical or mental health, seriously. If a player states they are suffering from a physical or mental health condition, it should be taken seriously and examined as thoroughly as possible. I clearly remember the criticism that was leveled at J. R. Richard. I’m unsure as to the number of people who apologized when they discovered the truth but, I would guess that there were far fewer apologies than there were criticisms.

Over 40 years later, we need to take the same approach with mental health issues. We have seen players who developed the “yips”, a condition which prevents them from making throws that had been routine their entire careers up until that moment. There are other mental health issues as well. Some are discussed; some are not. Regardless, they are legitimate and need to be treated with the same level of care and consideration as physical injuries and ailments.

I often state that when I write an article, or one of my books, my friend Roger lies in wait, like a lion in the tall grass, waiting for me to make a mistake, so he can pounce on me as if I were a wounded warthog. He emerges from his lair, clutching his red pen and clicking his tongue while he corrects my typo, grammatical faux pas, or spelling error.

Now, that’s just what happens to little old me. Imagine you are a Major League Baseball player. You’re playing in a game that has ramifications regarding your team’s playoff chances. Now, imagine you misjudge a flyball or strike out with the bases loaded. Suddenly, 50,000 Rogers leap to their feet. Instead of waving their red pens, they hurl a stream of epithets at you from their crimson faces. Such a thing would be extremely difficult to tolerate. That would be for anyone, now, imagine you were prone to panic attacks, bouts of anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, or depression. It would be a million times worse. Am I saying the fans have no right to boo? Absolutely not, they are paying customers and can do as they please, within reason. They can’t flog the players or throw things at them. Nor should they be allowed to. It’s simply a matter of putting things in perspective.

Life is hard. A life in the public eye is even harder. As we walk down the street on a daily basis, any of the people we encounter could have a mental health issue of some type and degree but, we most likely would have no idea. We don’t wear shirts labeling ourselves. I suppose things would be easier in a way if we did but, most likely it would be more complicated and unpleasant. We have no idea what burdens the people we encounter are carrying. Nor do they know ours. Now that Clint Frazier has publicly stated he was dealing with mental health issues for the majority of last season, things make more sense. He also stated he had depth perception issues, which could be a physical problem. Regardless, he seems at peace. No matter what you may think of him, he is still a 27-year-old man trying to do the best he can. Think back to when you were 27. I had not even started my current career. At this point, the best course of action and the kindest thing to do is to simply wish Clint Frazier luck in all aspects of his life.

Perhaps the most concerning statement Clint Frazier made was that although he felt very supported by Brian Cashman, with whom he had an open and honest relationship, he did not feel the same way about Aaron Boone. Frazier reported he did not know Aaron Boone “that well.” He stated they had a cordial relationship and never had any problems. It is odd that a player would state that he had a closer relationship with the general manager than he did with the on-field manager who worked with him daily for almost the entirety of his Major League career thus far. It fits with the view that I have of Boone as somewhat detached from the team. Regardless, the purpose of this article is not to malign Aaron Boone or anyone else.

As fans, we want to enjoy the game. That’s the whole purpose of watching it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, we do need to remember the players are simply people just like the rest of us. They are prone to mistakes, poor choices, and the same foibles as a grocer, high school teacher, or small business owner. The stigma that used to be attached to mental health issues has faded considerably over the years. That is a good thing.

The fact that Clint Frazier was able to disclose his condition is a positive thing not only for him but, for others as well. Perhaps, it will encourage someone else who is suffering from some type of mental health issue to seek treatment. That would be the best thing to happen from all of this. That, and for Clint Frazier to move on with his life and achieve whatever level of success he can. His disclosure is a reminder that what we see of other people is usually only not only what they want us to see but, merely the tip of the iceberg.

It is also a reminder, especially during this holiday season, for us all to practice the Golden Rule as much as we possibly can: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


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