Youk As Yank: Just kind of weird

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Hey, it’s my first post on Hardball Talk. Very exciting. I still cannot believe that Calcaterra and Gleeman didn’t save the “Jeff Francoeur is in the best shape of his life” post for me.

Kevin Youkilis plays for the New York Yankees now. I’m not typing those words as a fact. I’m typing those words to remind myself — kind of like that guy in Memento, who would tattoo integral facts on his body because he had no short term memory. Every few seconds, it seems, I forget all about Youkilis, and then some story or Tweet will cross my consciousness, and I’ll think, “Wait, what, Kevin Youkilis plays for the Yenkees now?”

I’m not quite sure why the Youkilis thing throws me.* I feel like I’ve largely grown numb to the temperamental and capricious ways of sports free agency. It really didn’t take me too long to get used to Peyton Manning in a Broncos uniform or Albert Pujols in an Angels uniform or even LeBron James in a Miami uniform. Josh Hamilton as an Angel? Got it down already.

*What Youkilis thing? Let me read back … wait, what, Kevin Youkilis plays for the Yankees now?

So this Youk as Yank thing shouldn’t be that hard to get used to. If we all could get used to Michael Jordan in a Washington uniform and Jerry Rice in a Raiders uniform and Greg Maddux in a Dodgers uniform and, heck, Wade Boggs in a Yankees uniform, there seem no real boundaries left. But for some crazy reason, Youkilis in a Yankees uniform just doesn’t quite compute for me. It isn’t that I have any personal connection to Youkilis. It isn’t that I could only see him in a Red Sox uniform — heck, I didn’t see any real incongruity when he played for the White Sox last year.

But for some reason Kevin Youkilis playing for the Yankees — wait, what, Kevin Youkilis plays for the Yankees now? — just triggers that cable TV “recording conflict” fiber in my brain.

It has me thinking about the most incongruous unharmonious players and uniforms in sports history. Here are 10 of them.

— John Unitas playing for the San Diego Chargers. This is probably the most famous clash between player and uniform — Unitas in 1973 played for the Chargers. He was 40 years old. He started four games completed 44.7% of his passes, threw seven interceptions against three touchdown passes. It was a sad ending, but in another way it wasn’t. He went out on his own terms. Anyway, endings are supposed to be sad.

— Wayne Gretzky playing for the St. Louis Blues. Gretzky playing for the New York Rangers was strange enough. But for 18 games, he played for the Blues and that’s just weird.

— Babe Ruth playing for the Boston Braves. He hit .181 in 28 games as a publicity stunt. He did hit six home runs in 92 at-bats — so he was still on pace to hit hit 40 home runs over a full season. But he did not hit a double or triple, he was just an old ballplayer swinging for the fences and trying to give the fans one more thrill.

— Rickey Henderson playing for the Seattle Mariners. I know Rickey played for nine different clubs in his astounding career — and that doesn’t even include the Independent League teams — so it seems silly to say that you could not imagine Rickey in a certain uniform. But Rickey’s brief Seattle sojourn completely skipped my memory.

— Emmitt Smith with the Arizona Cardinals. He was there for two seasons, and a big deal was made about it, but I never really got used to it.

— Tony Dorsett with the Denver Broncos. That was just strange … he wasn’t bad for the Broncos. He ran for 703 yards in fairly limited play and scored five touchdowns. It was still strange.

— Karl Malone with the Los Angeles Lakers. Remember that little experiment intended to get the Mailman his championship ring? He was 40, he played in 42 games, and he scored 13 or so a game. The Lakers reached the finals, but lost to Detroit in five.

— Patrick Ewing with the Orlando Magic. Ugh.

— Bill Russell with the San Diego Rockets. I was shocked to find out that … no, I’m kidding, this never happened.

— Pete Rose with the Montreal Expos. He got his 4,000th hit with the Expos, so you can still see photographs of Rose in an Expos uniform. He will sign these photographs, if you like. It still doesn’t look right.

— Reggie Jackson with the Oakland A’s. Like with Rickey, it’s pretty easy to imagine Jackson in just about any uniform. But the Jackson-Oakland combination doesn’t really make much sense to my mind. (Editor’s note: I meant to say “Reggie Jackson with the Baltimore Orioles,” here, but for some reason got Oakland stuck in my head. Regular readers know: I do that sometimes. I guess Reggie Jackson with Baltimore seems SO weird to me I couldn’t even type the words).

Oh good, it’s “Yasiel Puig is a showboat” season

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With the Los Angeles Dodgers punching their ticket to the World Series, Yasiel Puig is now going to be the subject of commentary by people who tend not to care about Yasiel Puig until it’s useful for them to write outraged columns or go on talk radio rants about baseball deportment.

We got a brief teaser of this last night when, after scoring the Dodgers’ ninth run on a Logan Forsythe double, TBS analyst Ron Darling criticized Puig for his “shenanigans” and “rubbing it in.” Never mind that his third base coach was waving him home and that, if he didn’t run hard, he was just as likely to be criticized for dogging it. In other news, baseball teams don’t stop trying in the fourth inning of baseball games, nor should they.

That was just an appetizer, though. The first real course of the “Puig is a problem” feast we’re likely to be served over the next week and a half comes from Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, who wrote it even before the Dodgers won Game 5 last night:

If you were raised to love baseball and to recognize the smart, winning kind from everything less, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig is insufferable. As the sport is diminished by professionals who disregard the basic act of running to first base as a matter of style, Puig, an incurable home-plate poser, often makes turning doubles and triples into singles appear effortless . . . In the postseason, Puig continues to behave as if he’s in the Home Run Derby. He even seems to relish his high-risk flamboyant foolishness despite frequent backfires.

This may as well be a fill in the blanks column from 2013 or 2014, when “Puig is a flashy showboater who costs his team more than he gives it” columns were all the rage. It ignores the fact that Puig, commonly dinged for being lazy, worked his butt off in 2017, particularly on defense, to the point where he has a strong case for a Gold Glove this year. It also ignores his .455/.538/.727 line in the NLDS sweep of the Diamondbacks and his .389/.500/.611 line against the Cubs in the NLCS. In the regular season he set career highs for games, homers, RBI, stolen bases and almost set a career high for walks despite having seventy fewer plate appearances than he did back in 2013 when he walked 67 times. He’s not the MVP candidate some thought he might be, but he’s a fantastic player who has been a key part of the Dodgers winning their first pennant in 29 years.

But the dings on Puig from the likes of Mushnick have rarely been about production. They’ve simply been about style and the manner in which he’s carried himself. To the extent those issues were legitimate points of criticism — particularly his tardiness, his relationships with his teammates and his at times questionable dedication — they have primarily been in-house concerns for the Dodgers, not the casual fan like Mushnick. On that score the Dodgers have dealt with Puig and, by all accounts, Puig has responded pretty well. An occasional lapse to be sure, but nothing which makes him a greater burden than a benefit. I mean, if he was, would be be batting cleanup in a pennant-clinching game?

So if the beef with Puig is not really about baseball, what could Phil Mushnick’s issue with him possible be?

I, for one, have no idea whatsoever.