On June 14th, 1999 I saw a miracle.
I was a college student at the time, and I was the Fenway Park for the first time in years, because I was a college student in Chicago, not Boston. I spent loads of time at the White Sox’s stadium, whatever they called it then, and less time at Wrigley Field, but neither was a sufficient replacement for being at home, so a friend and I booked a trip to a Sox-Twins game on our circuits back home for the summer.
Pitching-wise, we were treated to a start by Minnesota’s Brad Radke, then their ace, which ceased to be a treat when it became apparent he absolutely had it that day. But then, a reprieve: he was pulled from the game with a minor injury. Suddenly the game, and the trip, seemed less hopeless (you must remember that pre-2004, any game was liable to evoke the dense, depressing thicket of generations of failure), but entering the bottom of the ninth, the dread had manifested itself anew. The Sox were down one, and the bottom of the order was coming up.
It wasn’t any bottom of the order, either. It was as light-hitting a group as is possible to throw out there, anchored by two guys who would hit a total of three homers on the season in Darren Lewis and Jeff Frye. We held the Pesky Pole for luck (sat right next to it!) and didn’t expect much, but baseball has a way of surprising you from time to time, and this was one of those times.
Of those three homers Lewis and Frye would hit in 1999, two were in that inning. First Lewis went yard to tie it, which was inexplicable to our eyes. But before we could register the rarity of the moment, Frye, the next batter, went yard to end it. It was pandemonium. We Pole-danced, lol. I’ll never forget that feeling.
I bring all this up because Frye blocked me on Twitter this week after he found himself in hot water for criticizing a college bat-flipper for playing the game the “wrong way,” or some such barb. The player in question had just put his team, once trailing 8-0, in the lead, but that context was stripped from the clip of the righteous flip which, well, here it is:
If you don’t like this HR, you are what’s wrong with baseball. Let the kids play, let’s have fun, let’s grow the game. ELECTRIC BAT FLIP. pic.twitter.com/tYa4GbcLZf— Marc Luino (@GiraffeNeckMarc) May 9, 2021
For whatever reason, Frye planted his digital flag in direct opposition to this, decrying it as not an example of playing the game the “right” way, and when challenged on the (obviously, I think) racially-loaded undertones of a white former player criticizing a young POC, haughtily responded that he, Jeff Frye, would not accept any such framing. At which point yours truly responded that if someone had taught him to tweet the “right way,” all of this could have been avoided. That got the block.
I was hardly the only one to get it; Frye, who tweets at @shegone, did the “it’s not me, it’s you” thing of blocking anyone who deigned to criticize him. It’s the same finger-in-ears “la la la la I can’t hear you” act the entirety of the crusty old guard does to innovations in fun in baseball, a group that includes most announcers and managers, too, who do everything they can to hold back the tide of the plainly awesome sight of people having fun on the field.
For them, the sky is always set to fall, the slippery slope toward baseball being more fun to be avoided at all costs. And to them, somehow, this laser focus has nothing to do with all the things it obviously has to do within any sort of larger context, because context is not their friend. Their only friends are their friends in self-imposed misery and drudgery, and they will eventually lose out.
But forget the broader point. Very specifically, Frye should have flipped his bat to Venus after that homer 22 years ago. It should still be in orbit around the planet. Aliens should be probing it. At least in that case he’d be known today for playing baseball rather than trying to tear it down. But when you whiff, you whiff, and Jeff Frye knows quite a bit about that part of it, too.