NEW YORK -- Matt Holliday is as big as a bouncer. His shaved head gives him a tough look and, in person, he appears even larger than his listed 6-foot-4, 240 pounds.
“Matt Holliday is a very intimidating guy at first,” Yankees top outfield prospect Clint Frazier said. “To me, I thought he was this monster that I didn’t know how to approach, but when I finally did approach him, he is probably the best guy I’ve met in baseball. He is the nicest guy. He has a lot to offer about [how] to go about your business on the field and how to go about it after the game and how to handle things at home. He is someone I want to emulate, to be like him on and off the field.”
Holliday is sort of a quiet type, reluctant to talk too much about himself, but he has accomplished a lot in his 14 seasons, half of which have included All-Star selections and one of which ended with a World Series ring. This makes the 37-year-old DH someone players want to listen to. And he likes to teach.
Holliday shares lessons he first learned as a rookie with the Colorado Rockies, which were then honed as a champion with the St. Louis Cardinals. Even though he has worn a Yankees uniform for only about two months, he has been passing along wisdom since Day 1. The speed with which Holliday has joined CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and Chase Headley among the Yankees' leaders is a credit to his demeanor.
“Some guys are just natural-born leaders,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
"Matt Holliday is a very intimidating guy at first. To me, I thought he was this monster that I didn't know how to approach, but when I finally did approach him, he is probably the best guy I've met in baseball. ... He is someone I want to emulate, to be like him on and off the field."
Yankees prospect Clint Frazier
There is a lineage to Holliday’s leadership. When he showed up in the majors in 2004, the Rockies’ Mark Sweeney and Todd Greene told the rookie he was going to lunch with them every day. They taught him the dos and dont's of fitting in, in a big-league clubhouse.
In St. Louis, already an established star with a nine-figure contract, he made sure to pay attention to how Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright went about their work. This spring, young players like Frazier and Aaron Hicks took Holliday’s advice.
“People are going to be watching how they handle adversity, how they handle failure, how they handle success, how they handle the media, how they handle the pressure of playing [in] New York,” Holliday said. “People are watching to see how they handle those things. Playing a long time, you have to be able to handle those things the right way, then go out and let your talent shine on the field, have a short memory -- good or bad. Your teammates are looking to see you grind and fight, battle and compete, do things to help the team win games.”
In 2011, when the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter arrived in the majors, Holliday made sure to advise him, just as Sweeney and Greene had done for him. Both Holliday and Carpenter are coaches’ sons, giving them a common bond. There were meals and talks about what it takes to make it in the big leagues. Holliday isn’t wordy, but when he speaks, it has meaning for younger players, in large part because of his accomplishments on the field and how he treats others off of it.
“He was the guy who kind of took me under his wing when I first got to the big leagues,” Carpenter told ESPN’s Mark Saxon. “As a young player, he was a guy [who] went above and beyond to make me feel like I was a part of the group. He showed me what it is like to work hard and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. His dedication to his craft, both on and off the field, is second to none. He led really well by example. He was also a guy who would tell you what you needed to hear sometimes.”
From almost the first day of spring training, it was noticeable the newcomer was teaching the Cardinal Way to the Yankees. While Frazier was learning how to be a pro, the outfielder Hicks was inquiring about Holliday’s leg kick.
“He is such [an] approachable guy,” Hicks said. “It makes it easier that whatever question you ask him, it is going to be something useful. It is kind of cool to talk to him about that because he has had such success.”
Holliday is nearing the end of his career. He's signed for just one season with the Yankees. If he receives another contract next year, it will be largely based on the back of his baseball card, but the professionalism and leadership Holliday provides could be very valuable to the next generation of Yankees.