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Clint Frazier, Michael Kay and the Danger of Criticizing Injured Players

Clint Frazier, Michael Kay and the Danger of Criticizing Injured Players


CHICAGO — In the summer of 1980, J.R. Richard, the towering, intimidating, fireballing pitcher for the Houston Astros, complained of fatigue in his arm. It did not hurt, per se, but it felt lifeless.

As the listless outings mounted, the critics’ voices became a chorus. The news media, fans and even teammates openly wondered: Was Richard lazy, craven or discontent with his contract? Some even suggested he might be into drugs.

Then, several weeks after Richard started the All-Star Game, he collapsed with a stroke that ended his major-league career and nearly took his life.

Richard’s story may be largely forgotten, but it remains a cautionary tale for anyone questioning injured ballplayers — and a pertinent one for the Yankees after the team’s play-by-play broadcaster, Michael Kay, called out a pair of injured players on his radio show earlier this week: Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) and Clint Frazier (concussion).

After lamenting that the Yankees had to start the journeymen Shane Robinson and Luke Voit twice while being swept over four games at Boston, Kay said on Monday: “Shame on the Yankees for not having the depth. But again, shame on guys like Jacoby Ellsbury for not getting healthy. Shame on Clint Frazier for not getting healthy.”

After seeing some blowback on Twitter, Kay responded by saying he was being facetious.

Nevertheless, Frazier tweeted at Kay late Monday night:

The next day the Yankees announced that Ellsbury, who had not played this season because of injuries to his hamstring, hip and oblique that surfaced early in spring training, had undergone surgery on Monday to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He will be out for the remainder of the season.

Kay gradually walked back his comments on Tuesday in a series of tweets before apologizing during his afternoon radio show. Earlier in the day, he spoke with Frazier by phone, according to Yankees Manager Aaron Boone.

Kay’s comments were the second instance in a little more than a year of someone affiliated with the Yankees criticizing a player’s desire to return from injury. Last July, an unnamed person labeled a “Yankee insider” by the New York Daily News expressed exasperation that an ankle injury to Greg Bird had lingered for several months.

“You really have to wonder what’s with this guy,” the person told the Daily News. “You’d think with Judge and Sanchez, the guys he came up through the system with, doing so well up here he’d want to be a part of this. Apparently not.”

Ten days after the article appeared, Bird had ankle surgery. He returned near the end of August and contributed significantly during the playoffs, including hitting a home run in a crucial 1-0, Game 3 victory over Cleveland in their division series.

“I knew what I was about and that’s really all I was trying to focus on,” Bird said on Tuesday. “Sometimes you’re just going to hear things you don’t like. It’s just part of playing — and playing here, especially. For me, it was just sticking to my guns and knowing that obviously that wasn’t true. I stood up for myself.”

The spat between Frazier and Kay came a week after the Chicago Cubs were angered by comments from Alex Rodriguez, working as an ESPN commentator, in which he condemned how the struggling pitcher Yu Darvish was handling his rehabilitation from an elbow injury.

Boone said it was disappointing to have criticism of his players coming from people affiliated with the team.

“Hopefully we should never have things come from the organization to the media secondhand or in an underhanded kind of way,” Boone said.

As for Frazier’s using social media to respond, Boone said: “I don’t necessarily love that part of it, but we also don’t want to stifle when our guys want to make a comment or have a thought. We’re not going to get in the way of that but, yeah, sometimes I’d prefer that stuff be handled a little bit different.”

Kay, who is not calling the Yankees’ current series at the Chicago White Sox, declined an interview request through the team, opting instead to stand by the explanation he gave on his radio show on Tuesday.

Frazier did not respond to an interview request, and he has not commented any further on Twitter. He sustained his concussion when he collided with an outfield wall early in spring training, and the symptoms — which included being too dizzy to drive and not being able to remember the names of his cats — lingered for more than a month.

Frazier eventually returned, but after he collided with a fielder while running the bases in late June, concussion symptoms returned. He has been on the disabled list since.

“Nobody wants to be called out for something like that,” Bird said. “I think everyone in this room wants to play baseball at the end of the day, right? It’s funny to me when people say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t want to play.’ I don’t think that’s true.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B11 of the New York edition with the headline: Feuding With Yankee, Pundit Learns Danger of Criticizing Injured Players. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe





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