From Arizona, Jeff Frye spoke on the phone in a low voice with a north Texas accent. He spoke of his playing days, of when he batted eight times in a 17-inning game, of when he fired his agent on a moment’s notice and instead negotiated his own contract, of when he quit baseball on a whim on a Sunday in Louisville, Kentucky.
Frye chuckled, often at himself, making witty jokes at his own expense. He doubled back on details that he seemed to forget, but always remembered names and quoted conversations seemingly verbatim. He spoke freely of his injuries and never refrained from recounting his own downfalls.
Frye was in Arizona to watch players in spring training, a ritual that he had been subject to for 15 seasons ending more than a decade ago. Returning, Frye served in the role of agent to many players and wanted to help the players he represented, just as he wanted help from his agent in his playing days — help he didn’t always receive.
Frye wasn’t much of a rover in his career, but as his production decreased in 2001, he was left with little options. He was a free agent, understanding of his age and decreasing output but also of what he could offer a team. He was frustrated with what seemed like inaction.
“I called my agent,” Frye said, “and I said, ‘Hey, what have we got?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m busy with arbitration cases. Why don’t you make some phone calls on your own?’”
It didn’t seem right. His agent was meant to represent him, in good times and bad. When Frye needed representation most, his agent’s other obligations left him without a direction to turn. On a moment’s notice, Frye once again called his agent. On the spot, he fired him, began making calls on his own and soon reported to spring training with the Cincinnati Reds.
Frye thought on his feet. There was careful consideration in his actions, but he took only a moment to pull the trigger, just as he did quickly on throws made from second and third base throughout his career. He was frank and honest, quick to make a decision and without hesitation when executing it.
And so, in the 11th hour of his career, Frye found something he felt needed to change. He entered the regular season with the Reds’ triple-A affiliate in Louisville, batting above .300 and drawing trade interest from the Baltimore Orioles. He consistently hit first or second in the lineup, even at age 35; with injured players, he slotted in in the outfield regularly.
Soon, a younger outfielder was activated from the disabled list. It moved Frye to seventh in the lineup, in triple-A, in Louisville, at age 35.
On a Saturday, standing in left field, Frye had another one of his decision-making moments; he considered what he was doing, what his alternatives were, what he was missing out on. He consulted with a friend, discussed with his wife and the next day, a Sunday morning, told his manager.
“I just walked into the manager’s office, I said, ‘I wanted to thank you for everything, but I’m going to the house,’” Frye said. “He goes, ‘Nah you’re just not playing today.’ I said, ‘Nah, I’m going to the house, today.’”
Thinking on his feet, considering the consequences and again unafraid to pull the trigger on a moment’s notice, Frye packed his equipment, his family’s belongings from an apartment in Louisville, and headed home to Texas. In 24 hours, Frye quit a team and moved almost 1000 miles, all with great consideration. He was quick to make the decision and did not hesitate to act.
It was a moment similar to that of his decision to fire his agent. Frye pivoted in seconds, changing the trajectory of his career with a decision that took a fraction of a minute. These moments — realignments of fate, even — are something that stands out as Frye speaks.
Frye’s playing career didn’t end with his decision — he joined the Houston Astros in triple-A New Orleans for the final two weeks of the 2002 season — but it marked his acceptance of the end of his career.
“I was just like, I’m just spinning my wheels and maybe it’s just time to shut it down,’” Frye said. “So I did.”
But Frye had something he needed to change. He had been abandoned by his agent, disenfranchised with the way he was treated by his representative. Frye had another one of his moments. He became certified as a player agent less than a year after his retirement and quickly saw his friends, some of which were former teammates, benefit from his experience.
“Darren Oliver called me and . . . he says, ‘Hey, I need your help,’” Frye said. “I said, ‘You’re still represented by [Scott] Boras.’ He goes, ‘I know.’ I said, ‘Well you have to fire him before I can do anything for you.’ He goes, ‘Alright, stay on the phone, I want you to hear me fire him.’ I said, ‘No! Just call me back.’ So he calls me back five minutes later, he goes, ‘Alright, I fired him. Let’s see what we can do.’ Within 48 hours, we had him a job with the [Colorado] Rockies.”
Frye is quick to grab the success of the tale. He’s proud of the job he did, helping not only a friend but a player who needed representation. Frye was to Oliver what he needed in his career, and, without a doubt, one of his moments — thinking on the fly, making decisions on a whim, unhesitant in pulling the trigger — was seen in someone else.
Recounting it, the humour of the situation wasn’t lost on Frye. His witty chuckle seemed to be held just barely at bay while retelling the tale over the phone. Like his quick, measured decisions, Frye was always fast in responding to a question with a joke, disparaging himself with a quick laugh.
In his career, Frye curiously never wore a double-digit number. He joked, with his trademark self-deprecating humour, that his back wasn’t wide enough for two numbers. He recounted a conversation he had with the Texas Rangers clubhouse manager during spring training about his uniform number in 1992, quoting his interaction verbatim.
Frye found humour in his moments of rapid decision; it seemed that way while he talked. But when he quit baseball, fired his agent or paired the Rockies with Darren Oliver on a moment’s notice, there was no audience.
On the field, Frye found an audience to witness his moments. On August 17, 2001, while with the Toronto Blue Jays, Frye became one of the select few in major league baseball history to hit for the cycle. The feat had layers of moments, each making it increasingly less likely.
That season, with the Blue Jays in spring training, Frye hurt his right knee, an issue compounded by the turf he was forced to play on at the Rogers Centre. On every step Frye took, his knee popped. It was his back knee when he hit, limiting his rotation. In his first game of spring training, Frye swung, popped his knee and was carted off the field.
With his altered batting stance and weakened running, Frye hit more than 40 points below his career batting average. He had trouble finding his timing and groove while playing off of the bench, sometimes going more than two weeks without an at-bat. Frye felt that he was donating his first at-bats of a game when coming off of the bench; it took as much just to return to normal.
Going into the game on August 17, Frye had played on six of the previous seven days but was far from guaranteed to be in the lineup. He understood his level of play that season and the repercussions that followed. He would be surprised to find himself in the lineup every few days.
Buck Martinez, the Blue Jays’ manager at the time, said he played Frye simply “on a hunch” — likely because of his history against the starting pitcher that day, none other than Darren Oliver, Frye’s good friend and eventual client. Frye saw he was hitting ninth and starting at third base when he arrived at the field.
When retelling the sequence of the game, Frye struggles. He better remembers interactions, conversations he’s had with managers and coaches, than numbers. He can quote his postgame interview flawlessly, the names of his clubhouse managers from the early 1990s, but stumbles over the order of games.
Being an agent suits Frye. He’s personable and can recount the most minute of conversations, finding the people around him and their discussions more memorable — more important — than numbers.
Frye’s mind skipped over what he hit first: a triple. The triple, along with what he hit next — a double — are yet more moments, compounding what shouldn’t have been. Frye’s triple was from a ball hit weakly down the right field line, landing somewhere between the white line detailing the edge of the turfed infield and right fielder Ricky Ledee.
The turf at the Rogers Centre was different then. It played fast, speeding up a game of milliseconds into a game of microseconds. Frye knew this; he used it to his advantage, as an infielder and ground ball hitter, to hit nearly 75 points better at home than on the road. Ledee didn’t. He charged the ball and it bounced over his head, careening into the corner with Frye already closer to third base than he was to second.
Frye’s double led off the fifth inning. In right-centre field, Ledee took a bad route and the ball bounced over his head; it should have been caught, but it wasn’t. In the sixth, Frye hesitated out of the box after hitting a line drive down the left field line. The ball just barely cleared the wall, squeezing between the corner of the short outfield wall and the mesh foul netting.
Frye had collected the hardest hits in reverse order. Up 10-2 in the seventh inning, he only needed, of all things, a single to complete the cycle, to add the finishing moment to his chain of moments, to top off and make memorable a career that, in a little more than a year, would end while another began.
There was a sense of humour to it — of unexpectedness. Frye could only anticipate another moment, one where he would be forced to make a decision.
“I went up to Cito Gaston in the dugout and I said, ‘Hey Cito, what do I do if I hit one in the corner here?’” Frye said. “He said, ‘Stop at first and tell ‘em I told you to.’ I said, ‘Really?’”
Really. Frye was nervous, praying for the best and preparing for the worst. The pitch was a fastball, up in the zone and down the middle of the plate. Frye elevated his bat, swung, and hit the ball. It went exactly where he didn’t want it to — to the wall.
“I’m like, ‘Oh crap,’” Frye said with his chuckle. There was humour in this situation, too. “So I’m taking a huge turn around first base and I’m screaming at Garth Iorg, the first base coach, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ He’s screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘Stay here! Stay here!’ So I [took] a . . . big turn and went back to first.”
He had his cycle. He could have had more — one more base, another double and no single — but it added to the humour. Another moment, making it increasingly unlikely.
The situation continued to unfold; Kelly Gruber, the only other Blue Jay to hit for the cycle, stepped onto the field, in town for an autograph session and called to the game when Frye came close to the feat. Fyre didn’t know Gruber was his only predecessor until he looked up at the video board after his last hit.
After the game, he spoke with the media. He joked about his feat, chuckling at how unlikely it was and how it wouldn’t make a difference in a few days — how he might not even play the next day. He found a bicycle at his locker. He teased Gord Ash, the general manager of the Blue Jays at the time, about getting a motorcycle.
The next day, he apologized to Jerry Narron, the Rangers manager. Frye had Narron as a third base coach when with Texas in 1995, and felt that if anyone disagreed with the decision of his coaches to stay at first base the day before, it would be Narron.
Frye was a textbook player; he played the game hard, not showing the opponent up with anything except raw talent. Where he could, Frye would take the extra base, run the extra lap, steal the extra bag, move the extra player. He paints himself as a team player, a dirtbag player, and stopping at first was something he didn’t want to do.
“I said, ‘Jerry,’” Frye said. “I shook his hand, I said, ‘I want to congratulate you on being the Rangers manager and I wanted to apologize to you for stopping at first base.’ It really made me mad, his reaction, he just kinda gave me the stone face, said, ‘Just play the game. Just play the game.’”
The series, and the season, continued. Frye played the next day, batting two-for-four, but didn’t bat again until August 30. He lost his timing, his rhythm, and life returned to normal. He would be a free agent in only weeks, his performance that season speaking for itself. His agent would be missing in action, and soon fired. Frye’s cycle was only a blip, a perfect, humorous moment, finishing a long career in a way that only Frye could.
It didn’t even top the list of accomplishments for Frye. The Blue Jays’ 2001 season was — by definition — mediocre; the team went 80-82. But because of its placement in Frye’s career, at the 11th hour, in a season where he hit more than 40 points below his career average, where he had trouble keeping his knee connected to his body, it was horrible.
He had all but hit rock bottom. To say it was a tough year is an understatement; he was 34 years old, fighting for a job in the majors with a batting average 60 points lower than the year before. His health was declining and his ability to keep going was, too.
And so, with all the glory the cycle brought in only a fleeting, unexpected, unlikely moment, it just as quickly washed away with the reality of a career on the edge of being over. He would soon be a free agent, then in spring training with the Reds, then sitting in left field on a Saturday in Louisville, wondering, “Man, how am I going to make it back to the big leagues?”
It was only for a moment. Frye still has his humour, his jokes, his chuckle, his moments, just in a different way. He’s an agent now, in Arizona, returning to spring training to watch players play in the way he did more than a decade ago.
For someone who makes decisions rapidly and never hesitates to change, Frye still holds on to his career. He holds on to baseball, to what he loves, to his three children. He holds on to his cycle in a unique way: with the bat he hit it with.
When he hit the cycle, he was asked for the bat after the game. He didn’t want to part with it — it was a remnant of what was only a humorous moment in a fleeting career — so he gave another bat, one that was identical, masqueraded as the one he used in-game.
Somewhere, there’s a bat not used to hit for the cycle, where someone believes it was. And in his home in northern Texas, Frye has the bat as his trophy of what he accomplished. As he speaks on the phone from Arizona, Frye chuckles. He finds humour in this moment, too.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkColley. He can be contacted at email@example.com.