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).

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.