So long, Todd Frazier. You’re sensational, but you’re gone.
If you’ve been even barely conscious over the last couple of weeks, you’ve noticed that the Reds are working the phones, day by day, trying to trade pretty much every asset they have. We can discuss ad infinitum — and I’m sure we will — the details of this rebuilding process, whether Cincinnati is getting back good value for the pieces they are dangling, or whether nobody wins.
It seems like Frazier has always been a figure on the American sporting scene, at least since he emerged as a special 12 year-old. It’s easy to remember when he came out of nowhere to lead his Toms (Moon) River, NJ team to a celebrated championship at the 1998 Little League World Series. Frazier was the big star of that series, going 4-4 with a homer in the championship game, while also notching the win on the mound.
Nine years later, Frazier was drafted by the Reds in the first round of the 2007 MLB draft, and he began walking the lonesome road to the majors. As the 2011 season loomed, Cincinnati was the defending NL Central champions and Frazier was reaching for the moon, knocking on the door to the majors. He had been steadily climbing the ladder in the Reds farm system, and to many pundits — you can call me irresponsible, but I was was one of the skeptics — Frazier looked like a good bet to be a solid, if unspectacular utility guy who could play any position on the infield. Certainly, his minor league numbers didn’t suggest a future star or a future Home Run Derby champ (his highest HR total in the minors was 19 in A ball), and it never entered my mind that Frazier would reach those heights.
Still, when the Reds broke camp under sunny skies in 2011, I wasn’t all alone in being pretty irritated that Frazier wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. Instead, Cincinnati chose to hang onto a pitcher who had recently been released by the Baltimore Orioles. I thought it was ludicrous at the time, but grabbing Alfredo Simon turned out to be a good move.
Frazier didn’t let it get him down; he kept grinning and he kept hitting, come rain or come shine. Finally, in late May, Frazier made his major league debut just in time. In the seventh inning of a 10-3 loss to the Phillies on May 23, Frazier appeared as a pinch hitter and struck out. When the dust had settled on that 2011 season, the Reds had fallen back to a 79-83 record, and Frazier had played in 41 games. With Scott Rolen entrenched at 3B, Frazier was exactly what I thought he’d be at age 25: a slightly below-average hitter who played multiple positions (Frazier played 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and LF during his rookie season).
The second time around, in 2012, Frazier again played multiple positions once in a while — 1B, LF, RF — but he also impressed in his first extended, day in, day out stretch at 3B, thanks to another in a long line of inevitable injuries to Rolen. He also surpassed nearly everyone’s expectations at the plate, hitting .273/.331/.498 with 19 HR and 2.9 WAR in 128 games.
That 2012 season — before he ever made his first All-Star Game — was the year in which the legend of Todd Frazier, with its roots in that spectacular LLWS performance, began to grow. It’s almost as if he announced, “I’m going to do it my way.” First, on May 27, Frazier hit one of the strangest home runs you’ll ever see; it was a no-handed blast. (Watch the video, since it’s difficult to describe in words.) Then, two days later, Frazier had a great game against the Pirates, going 2-3 with an RBI double and an RBI triple. Later that day, clearly walking on the sunny side of the street, he went downtown to dinner with teammate Ryan Ludwick. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that a man was choking. Frazier leaped up, cleared a couple of people out of his way, performed the Heimlich maneuver…and saved the guy’s life. Some enchanted evening, eh?
Then there’s the Sinatra. Big leaguers love their walkup music, carefully choosing which song will be playing as they leave the on-deck circle and make their way to the plate. Generally, it’s a pretty mundane selection of pop, hip-hop, country, or Latin music. With Frazier, it’s always been a tune by his fellow New Jersey boy, Frank Sinatra.
I’m a pretty big Sinatra fan, so the first time I heard “Come Fly With Me” blaring over the Great American Ballpark loudspeakers, I sat up and took notice. Who’s this kid with the ever-present grin, playing Ol’ Blue Eyes as he walks up to the plate? I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to hear “Come Fly With Me” or “Fly Me To The Moon” without being reminded of Frazier.
So Frazier established pretty early on that he was, well…different. After almost making it all the way in 2012, the Reds had high hopes for 2013. Frazier was one of the leaders on that club, which eventually made the playoffs as a Wild Card team, and he finally got a chance to be the everyday third baseman for the Reds, starting 140 games at the hot corner. Nice work if you can get it, but unfortunately, the opportunity coincided with a disappointing year at the plate. He finished the season with a slash line of .234/.314/.407 with a 98 OPS+. Predictably, there were questions about whether Frazier was the long-term solution at 3B for the Reds. I personally wondered, in the wee small hours of the morning, whether Frazier would ever have the plate discipline — his approach seemed to be “anything goes” — to be a truly top-shelf major league hitter.
Nevertheless, beginning with his age-28 season, Frazier answered all those questions and more. In 2014, he made his first All-Star team, hitting .273/.336/.459 with 29 HR, 80 RBI, and 5.3 WAR. It was a very good year, a dream season in many ways, but no one knew that it was just a sneak peak of what was to come in 2015.
I don’t want to rehash everything that happened last season, but suffice to say that the first three months of Frazier’s 2015 campaign were one of the greatest rides any of us have ever experienced as Reds fans. By the time June rolled around, Frazier’s bat was scorching hot, and I wondered in print why he hadn’t become a bigger star in this town somewhere along the way.
Right on cue, the Reds organized a huge “Vote Frazier” push that got the Toddfather elected as the starting 3B for the National League in the midsummer classic. The rest is history; I don’t know if he was using witchcraft, but Frazier put on an amazing display before the home fans to capture the Home Run Derby. A lovely way to spend an evening. It’s been a long, long time since I witnessed something like that, and I wrote a piece for ESPN that has been made obsolete just five months later by Frazier’s trade to the White Sox. The headline: “Forget Pete Rose, Todd Frazier is now Cincinnati’s favorite son.”
If you had told me six weeks ago that Frazier would receive a louder ovation than Pete Rose before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I was there. It happened.
Then Frazier held up his end of the bargain. In what many billed as the best Home Run Derby in history, the Reds third baseman powered to a dramatic victory by defeating two-time champ Prince Fielder, Josh Donaldson, then rookie slugger Joc Pederson. With every successive homer, the fans at Great American Ballpark got louder and louder and louder. By the time Frazier secured the victory in the finals with an extra-time (what is this, soccer?) home run, the whole city was in a frenzy.
I’ve attended a bunch of games at Great American Ballpark, including the game in 2010 when Jay Bruce hit a ninth-inning homer to secure the Central Division championship (“Clinchmas,” in Cincinnati lore). I’ve never heard the stadium so loud. And it’s not even close.
Over the course of the past six weeks, fans began to realize that the Reds had a great player here in Cincinnati, and it wasn’t Votto or Cueto or Chapman. Frazier is having a season that rivals any that Reds fans have ever seen from a third baseman; only Tony Perez’s 1970 campaign is liable to be in the ballpark, assuming Frazier keeps up this pace that has him on track for 47 home runs and 49 doubles.
Not only that, Frazier has been one of the best sluggers in all of baseball during the first half. Among all major league hitters, Frazier (.284/.337/.585) is in the top six in home runs, slugging, and isolated power, and he’s in the top 10 in WAR, wRC+, and wOBA. Throw in the fact he flashes a pretty good glove, and it’s clear Frazier is legit.
Those were heady times. Cincinnati baseball fans, casual and hardcore alike, discovered a fine romance with their third baseman, and the feeling was mutual. Frazier had the world by a string and was living the good life. It was fun to be an observer during those days.
I guess we should acknowledge the stormy weather that came next; Frazier declined as the autumn leaves arrived, but still reached September with one of the best seasons ever for a Reds third baseman. And now he’s on his way to Chicago, to help fill the “Former Red” quota on the White Sox roster previously owned by Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. I suppose it’s time to reflect on Frazier’s career in Cincinnati. Let’s get away from it all and try to put his time here in context.
It’s surprising to note that Frazier has only been the Reds’ regular third baseman for three seasons. Seems like longer, doesn’t it? And can it be possible that Frazier has only been on the Reds roster for four full seasons?
In those 4+ seasons, however, Frazier played more games at 3B than all but twelve other Reds in history. Tony Perez and Heinie Groh are atop that list; Chris Sabo, Aaron Boone, and Nick Esasky are more recent players ahead of Frazier. Frazier’s 108 homers trails only Tony Perez (287) in HRs hit by Reds 3Bs.
Among Reds who played 3B as their primary position while with the club, Frazier rates fifth all-time in RBI (324), sixth in doubles (125), seventh in runs scored (305), eighth in hits (586), ninth in walks (189) and OPS (784). He’s second only to Groh in career OPS+ for Reds third basemen (113), and if he had remained in Cincinnati for just one more season, Frazier almost assuredly would have passed Chris Sabo for second on the WAR list for 3Bs; instead, Frazier’s stuck in third with 15.3.
So, as time goes by, where do we place Frazier in the annals of Reds history? He’s not nearly as good as most casual Reds fans think, but he has certainly been good. A hundred years from now, he’ll be remembered as one of the better third basemen this franchise has ever seen, and is likely a Reds Hall of Famer. I think we all wish he could have been a Red for even longer, but that’s life. So we’ll root for Frazier in the junior circuit, and wish him nothing but the best, while remembering fondly his contributions to some pretty good Reds teams (and, last year, one of the worst).
You know, I’m listening to Frank Sinatra (“Strangers In The Night”) as I write this, and I’m imagining Frazier’s first at-bat next season at US Cellular Field in the Windy City. I suppose Frazier could choose “My Kind of Town” as his walkup music, but I expect to hear Sinatra crooning this one:
Chicago, Chicago, that TODDling town
Chicago, Chicago, I will show you around
I love it, bet your bottom dollar, you’ll lose the blues in Chicago, Chicago
The town that Billy’s Sunday couldn’t shut down.
On State Street, that great street, I just want to say
They do things that they don’t do on Broadway
They have the time, the time of their life
I saw a man he danced with his wife in Chicago, Chicago, my home town.
So now, Frazier is leaving on a jet plane for the windy city. We’ll meet again, but yeah, Chicago, you’re going to love Todd Frazier. Cincinnati’s going to miss him. Goodbye and thanks for the memory, Todd. We’ll drink one for the good times. Hopefully, the best is yet to come, both for the Reds and for their former third baseman.