One night a few weeks ago, I got a weird text from a buddy of mine right after we had gotten done beating the Rays 5–1.
“Man, you gotta see this” was all he wrote, followed by a link.
It was a GIF of this older gentleman. Actually, I can describe him better than that. This guy had a huge beard, and was wearing a turquoise collared shirt, with suspenders and a pair of glasses that … could really only have been worn by him — if that makes any sense.
In the GIF, he’s reacting to the three-run jack I had hit to extend our lead from one run to four. He has this blank stare on his face and is completely emotionless. All he’s doing is standing there and giving me a thumbs-down.
A freakin’ thumbs-down.
We had played that game at Citi Field in Queens because Hurricane Irma had forced the Rays out of Tampa. The thumbs-down guy was a Mets fan named Gary who’d just happened to show up that night. I guess he wasn’t too happy about the Yankees playing in his team’s home park, or the fact that we were winning.
So anyway, the next afternoon I get to the clubhouse at Citi and Aaron Judge comes right up to me before I can even put down my bag.
“Dude, you need to do the thumbs-down if you get a hit tonight. You have to. For real.”
I’m pretty sure Aaron had been waiting all day to tell me that. The young guys on the team are always on the Internet and keeping up with memes. He was so excited about the whole thing that I felt I kind of had to go with it … you know, for the kids.
I didn’t give it too much thought when I agreed to do it. It was just like, Yeah, sure, whatever you say, man. I can do that. The next day, I hit an RBI single, and I quickly realized that this was really going down.
So I’m on my way to first, and pretty much the only thing I’m thinking is, Aw man, I really gotta do this now. For a few seconds there, I actually thought about bailing on the whole thing. But I know I’m gonna catch hell from the guys if I just stand there and don’t give them the thumbs-down. So I’m kind of stuck.
As all that’s going through my head, I’m sort of trying to kill time, so I turn to Tampa’s first baseman, Logan Morrison, and I’m like, “Look man, I don’t know if you saw this crazy thing online last night but—”
“Yeah,” he turns his head to me, kind of rolling his eyes, “I saw it.”
“Alright, cool.” I tell him. “Nothing against your pitcher, I just … I basically have to do it.”
Then, a second later … I did it.
I gave the thumbs-down. Right there at first base. For everyone to see.
And as soon as I did, all my teammates in the dugout gave a thumbs-down right back to me.
Just like that, a meme was born.
A day later, after we get back to Yankee stadium, Brett Gardner leads off the game with a hit, turns to the dugout and now he gives the thumbs-down … and, well, now this thing may be with us forever….
It’s spread like crazy since then. We even have T-shirts (And yes, you can buy them: http://shoptoddfrazier.com/).
Now whenever I’m stretching in the outfield, I’ve got kids screaming at me and giving me the thumbs-down with all their buddies. My friends are texting me after every game with a ?.
Or like: ??????.
Sometimes those things fill up my whole screen.
Even my mom — the woman who holds a cross to her chest every time I step up to the plate — is texting me the ? after games.
Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP
Everyone connected to the organization has been getting involved, and it’s easy to see why: We have one of the best clubhouse atmospheres I’ve ever been around.
Here, let me take you inside.
Alright, so you walk in and the first thing you hear is Latin music. Even if you don’t know the words, you feel the rhythm. Starlin Castro is acting as DJ, most likely. To your left you see CC and Dellin. They’re chillin’, talking about what it’s like to be tall or something. To your right, Masa is working on his English, poring over his books and taking notes. The young guys — Judge, Gary, Toe, Clint Frazier — are packed together, scrolling through Instagram looking at what the new “cool” outfits are, and what hot new music is out (or whatever it is young people do on Instagram). And then there’s me, Didi and Ells just sitting back and cracking jokes and watching SportsCenter.
Our room has a great dynamic between the young guys and the veterans. Not every clubhouse is like that. I remember getting yelled at as a rookie for sitting in the wrong seat on a team plane. And that made me just want to stay out of the way of the older guys. But with this Yankees team — it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The young guys blend with the vets so easily.
If we’re on the road, Clint or Aaron are asking me to grab dinner so they can pick my brain. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that when I was new to the league.
But they do. And that’s no accident. They have that confidence for a few reasons.
For one, these boys are ballin’ out. I remember before one of my first games with the Yankees, I was in the dugout minding my own business, and I hear this booming noise — I mean, I’ve heard solid contact before, but this way beyond that. I look up and there’s Aaron, flicking second-deck bombs into the opposite-field bleachers during BP like it was nothing. And then Gary comes up: same damn thing.
Second, Joe Girardi does a great job managing these kids. He makes sure they stay focused — not by being hard on them or anything like that, but by knowing how to push each individual player. He uses them in different spots in the lineup that will challenge them in different ways. It’s an art, and it’s one of the little things that great managers do to help their young players develop.
Most important, though, those kids are just good dudes. They’re in early every day, they listen to what the veteran guys have to say and they really want to get better — that’s clear to me.
Those young guys, along with the rest of the clubhouse, made it so easy for me to become part of the team when I was traded to New York in July. It’s sort of strange to be here as a Yankee and think back to the day of the trade, because I originally thought I was going to the Red Sox. The afternoon I was traded, the TVs in the White Sox’ locker room were saying I was going Boston. My mom was blowing up my phone (you know how moms are) with texts every five minutes asking me about the Red Sox.
Then I got a call from my agent.
“Looks like it’s the Yankees now, Todd. You’re going to New York.”
You have to understand, I’m from New Jersey. I know the New York fan base and I know what it means to be a Yankee.
So when my agent said the words “New York,” for whatever reason, my mind went straight back to the 1995 ALDS. Game 2. Yankees-Mariners. In the Bronx. I was nine years old, up in the bleachers with my dad. It was a damp, cool fall night, and the game went to extra innings. I was struggling to keep my eyes open and I had school the next morning, so my dad made the tough call to take me back home before the game ended. I remember watching Jim Leyritz’s 15th-inning walk-off home run the next day on TV and being so disappointed that I hadn’t been there to see it in person … but I’ll also never forget that playoff atmosphere at the stadium.
And now I get to be a part of that? Down on the field? Are you kidding me?
Since we were on a road trip when I first joined up with the team after the trade, I had some time to think about what it would be like to put on the pinstripes and run out onto the field in the Bronx. And before we got back, Gardy kept asking me if I was nervous about playing at the stadium.
To be honest, I really wasn’t.
O.K., I guess I was a little. But not about my first at bat or anything to do with actually playing.
I was nervous about the roll call, which is when the fans run through the lineup chanting the name of each player until he acknowledges them, like this.
I’d seen it done hundreds of times in person, but I never thought about what I would do if they called my name.
So the first game at the stadium comes around, and they’re going through the infield and … I’m still on the fence about what I’m going to do, and it’s about my turn to go.
But then I hear them call my name, and I get past the goose bumps and throw ’em a little Shooter McGavin-type thing. The bleacher creatures gave me a good cheer back, so I guess I did O.K.
That was a regular-season roll call, though. Everything changes in October. We all know that.
The roll call during the playoffs in the Bronx is different. It’s loud, it’s in your face, it’s all business.
I hope I get to hear it over and over again this October. This is going to be so much fun, New York.
And hey, Yankee fans, I have just one request:
If you see me on the street or in the field over the next few weeks, hit me with the ?.
I feel like maybe it might be good luck thing, you know what I mean?