Remembering Todd Frazier's magical night at GABP
The 2015 Home Run Derby was unforgettable
It makes me genuinely sad to type these words, but I haven’t been to Great American Ball Park since 2019. In my mind, GABP is the most underrated stadium in baseball, and I miss it dearly.
I’m not going to rehash the reasons why I’m staying away; if you’re interested, here’s what I’ve written about it. There haven’t been as many wins as I would have liked over the years, but I have plenty of great memories in that stadium. “Clinchmas” was an incredible night. I was in the park for the playoffs in 2012. Every single Opening Day has been amazing, including 2005, when Adam Dunn and Joe Randa gave me chills. The stadium was rocking for the first home playoff game against the Phillies in 2010.
But I have never heard GABP as loud as it was on July 13, 2015, when Reds third baseman Todd Frazier competed in the MLB Home Run Derby. Here’s a version of what I wrote for ESPN.com in 2015 after I returned home. Sure, it was just an exhibition…but it’s always going to be one of my favorite baseball memories — for reasons that you’ll read below — and I still get a kick out of reliving it.
Recently, I wondered in print why Todd Frazier wasn't a bigger star in Cincinnati. Over the course of a couple of days this week, Frazier made that piece more obsolete than pagers and folding maps. Thanks, Todd.
The premise was sound at the time. Talk radio, Twitter, print media ... all the talk around Cincinnati for the past few years has been Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman and Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips and Billy Hamilton and Jason Marquis. Frazier had been something of an afterthought, a good player who seemed like a good guy, but not the straw that stirs the drink in the Queen City.
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.
Perhaps you need to understand Cincinnati's culture to know why this is significant, but that's another discussion for another day. I won't attempt to defend the city's lingering love affair with Rose. Suffice to say that no sports figure in Cincinnati casts as large a shadow as Rose, not even fellow Big Red Machine stars Johnny Bench -- named one of baseball's four greatest living players before the All-Star Game -- or Joe Morgan, who is, if we're being honest, probably the greatest Reds player of all time.
Yet there was Frazier supplanting Rose in the hearts of Reds fans, even if for just a brief moment in time. How did we get here?
First of all, in mid-June, Frazier was trailing Matt Carpenter by 2.5 million votes in the balloting for the starting spot at third base on the All-Star team. The Reds -- led by social media superstar Lisa Braun, Cincinnati's director of digital media -- began a "Vote Frazier" campaign. There were organized giveaways and lunches at the ballpark, and an intense campaign over all social media platforms. For more than a month, the Reds pushed Frazier relentlessly, in a PR blitz that was unprecedented. It worked.
Frazier made a late charge, was elected as the NL starter, and by the time the voting concluded, he had become the de facto face of the franchise.
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.
The next night, Pete stepped on to the field and received a pretty good ovation. You heard it, and you've read about it. But when the starting lineups were introduced a few minutes later, it was clear: On this day, Frazier was Cincinnati's favorite son.
(And it didn't hurt that a growing segment of the Reds fan base grows weary of constantly defending Rose.)
Over the course of the past six weeks, fans began to realize that the Reds had another pretty great player here in Cincinnati, and he isn't named 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.
As I was pondering last month about why Frazier wasn't the biggest star in the Queen City, I noted some things that should have made him a natural for Cincinnati's particular brand of fandom:
Think about it: Frazier is a Little League World Series star whose name has been known to the sporting public since he was 12 years old. He was drafted by the Reds, a home-grown player who came up through the system to win a starting role on the big league club. He hit 19 homers in each of his first two full seasons as Cincinnati's regular third baseman, while displaying a solid glove at the hot corner. Last year, he was the best offensive player on the team, he made his first National League All-Star roster, and even made it to the finals of the Home Run Derby. When the dust settled on the season, Frazier's 29 homers were fourth in the NL.
What you need to understand, to put this into context, is that Cincinnati has a bit of an inferiority complex. The whole city desperately wanted to shine when the eyes of the nation settled on it. It's why the Reds organization and the city went above and beyond to make everything associated with the All-Star Game strictly first class. I think everyone will tell you: Reds owner Bob Castellini — for all his faults — and his team knocked the ball out of the park during All-Star week.
Now, all of a sudden, as the Reds pushed for one of their own to start the All-Star Game they were hosting, I truly believe Reds fans finally began to realize they have a special — and really fun — player right here in town. And then, when Frazier shined so brightly on the national stage, showing the country his great personality along with that powerful swing, he gave Reds fans another reason to be proud of the city. It took a New Jersey boy to give Cincinnati back its swagger.
You know, my 10-year-old son is a Brandon Phillips fan. In his youth games, he plays second base and he wears No. 4, just like BP. He's been loyal to Phillips, despite my occasional lamentations about BP's inevitable decline.
On Monday night, as we walked out of the stadium, he looked up at me. "Dad," he said. "Can I get a Todd Frazier shirt tomorrow?"
America, meet Todd Frazier, Cincinnati's pride and joy. Finally.
The World’s Most Dangerous Podcast
You aren’t going to want to miss this one. I was joined again by Chris Garber for a special episode: the Obscure Former Reds Draft. Round by round, pick by pick, we drafted the ultimate teams of obscure former Cincinnati Reds.
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