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).

Hunter Pence is mashing for the Rangers

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Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.

Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.

What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.