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Youk As Yank: Just kind of weird

Feb 26, 2013, 11:52 AM EDT

New York Yankees infielder Youkilis takes batting practice during a workout at the team's MLB spring training complex at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. AP

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).

  1. penferris - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Clemens in Toronto still feels weird to me.

  2. mav33 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Willie Mays with the Mets…

    • fredverd - Feb 26, 2013 at 8:28 PM

      Take it back just a little bit further…how about Sal “The Barber” Maglie having been a NYGiant for years (and hating the other National League Team, the Brooklyn Dodgers!!) winding up in a Dodger uniform? As a young kid, I couldn’t imagine how or why this could be possible…little did I know that they really played for money…

  3. lordd99 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    Reggie in Oakland doesn’t make sense? Some would argue that makes the most sense of all!

    • byjiminy - Feb 26, 2013 at 8:39 PM

      I agree! I still think of Reggie on that great Oakland team with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Ken Holtzman, and Blue Moon Odom, and it makes me happy. To me, Reggie playing for the Yankees symbolizes everything that’s wrong with MLB’s competitive balance. Yes, Reggie is the archetypal Yankee — because they symbolize the same thing.

  4. penferris - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Manny Ramirez, doing it the Ray Way.

    • Jeremy T - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      To be fair, everything about Manny was (and is) pretty weird, regardless of uniform

  5. ravensnation21 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Michael Jordan as a Wizard?

    • Jeremy T - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:39 PM

      or as a White Sox

      • Kevin S. - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:32 PM

        Birmingham Baron.

      • Jeremy T - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:35 PM

        I thought I remembered him in a Sox uniform, too. Maybe in Spring Training?

      • kopy - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:43 PM

        Possibly, although the Barons unis were (and I think still are) essentially identical.

      • mvd513 - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:14 AM

        White Sox spring training? You guys really dont remember his 1994 Upper Deck rookie card?

      • Jeremy T - Feb 27, 2013 at 10:29 AM

        Any memories are going to be second-hand for me, and pretty vague at that, since I was 4 years old in 1994

  6. number42is1 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Let me get this straight….. this is Joe’s first story on this site and he brought the “OTHER” sports into it? interesting… very very interesting

    • 18thstreet - Feb 27, 2013 at 4:22 PM

      Joe writes about other things, and sometimes brings sports into it.

  7. nbjays - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Welcome, Joe! I’ve enjoyed your writing for years and look forward to many thoughtful posts here on HBT.

    Not sure what to think of Youk the Yank; glad to see the chin flora gone but there’s still that godawful batting stance to identify him by. Ichiro as a Yank still seems a lot more incongruous to me at this point.

  8. professormaddog31 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    Even worse than Maddux in a Dodgers uniform? A Padres uniform. Those were tough games to watch, and I felt totally bipolar the whole time. I’m not a fan of those teams in the least, and I didn’t want them to win anything, but I didn’t want him to lose. That was enough to give me an ulcer or two.

  9. randygnyc - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    Talking about changing teams-
    How about seeing Paterno and Sandusky in new uniforms? Prison issued orange?

    • aceshigh11 - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      Unhinged, table for one.

  10. leerosenthall - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    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?”

    What’s a “Yenkee”???

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      I dunno, I ‘ll bite, so what’s a Yenkee?

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      you tell me.
      this is a riddle, right?

    • nbjays - Feb 26, 2013 at 9:49 PM

      What isn’t a Yenkee…. What’s on second.

  11. aiede - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    It took a long time to get used to Chris Chelios in a Wings sweater. And that’s as a Wings fan.

  12. Baseball Beer Burritos In That Order - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    Welcome to HBT Joe!

    I plugged some of those names into BBR and Fangraphs and they didn’t come up. What position did Johhny Unitas and Emmitt Smith play in baseball?

  13. buddaley - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Had it happened, seeing Jackie Robinson in a Giants uniform would have been disorienting. But he preferred to retire.

    I suppose the Rays are still too young a team for such an issue to arise for most people, but I will have trouble watching James Shields pitch in a KC uniform. More jarring for me than seeing Crawford in Boston or Upton in Atlanta or eventually watching Price wherever he signs in the future. Most Rays fans know and expect that most players are just passing through, but Shields holds a special place I think.

  14. drpaisley - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    Wait, Joe Posnanski’s first post is all about his reaction to something, rather than the thing itself? I’m shocked, shocked I say! Or would be, if I hadn’t put up with his constant self-referencing for years when he was at the KC Star. Waiting for the day he finally goes full Dole and starts referring to himself in the third person.

    • jamkarat - Feb 27, 2013 at 11:47 AM

      and your post references only your reaction I’m shocked..not.

    • 18thstreet - Feb 27, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      The Internet is full of other places. Go there.

  15. andrewproughcfe - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    From a 70’s perspective, the weirdest things I ever saw were Franco Harris wearing a Seahawks jersey, and Earl Campbell running the ball for Bum Phillips’ New Orleans Saints. Those were some serious jaw droppers.

  16. jwbiii - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    I was at Unitas’ debut as a Charger. It was pretty sad.

    • jwbiii - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:28 PM

      Meh. Wrong page.

  17. walterwhite1976 - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    It’s weird and very odd but not that big of a deal. What other team WANTED him? I seriously doubt he wanted to go there until it was his last option.

  18. cowboyzshininstar - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    I thought I was the only one who thought this strange. I hate that he’s in pinstripes. There’s no real rivalry anymore.

    • 18thstreet - Feb 27, 2013 at 4:32 PM

      Um, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs played for the Yankees. It was in all the papers.

      Here’s the full list:

      Note: it’s happened before.

  19. Detroit Michael - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    Mike Piazza with the Marlins.

  20. walterwhite1976 - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    Believe me I hate it….but I can never hate Youkilis.

  21. seeinred87 - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    Gretzky had it, lost it. Yzerman picks it up. Yzerman moving, blue line chance, SCORE! STEVE YZERMAN! DETROIT WINS!

    I will remember those words from Gary Thorne for all of my life, as the Red Wings beat the Blues early in the second overtime of the seventh game of the 1996 Western Conference Semifinal. I wasn’t even 10 yet, but I woke my whole family up yelling when it happened. It’s my first great pro sporting memory I guess, and nothing else is even close.

    The point is, the Blues are the 2nd team I think of when I hear Gretzky.

    (Are they? Then what happened?)

    • seeinred87 - Feb 26, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      For anyone who wants to see this magical goal:

    • umrguy42 - Feb 27, 2013 at 11:55 PM

      As a Blues fan, I hated that. I also kinda hated that he and Hull didn’t get like a season together to see what they could do for real…

  22. coloradostupid - Feb 26, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    Try again… maybe your next post will be better.

  23. bigmeechy74 - Feb 26, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    Jeter as a Yankee and Cal Ripken as an Oriole seems bizarre to me

  24. byjiminy - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    Rod Carew as an Angel? As a Twins fan that is still hard to fathom — but I looked it up and found out that he played for the Angels for SEVEN years, six of them as an all-star. It still seems wrong to me; but perhaps LA fans feel differently.

  25. jessethegreat - Feb 27, 2013 at 1:00 AM

    No cubbies fan but why no mention of Sosa and the Orioles? Favre and the Vikings? Reggie white and the panthers? What about Shaq and the Suns?

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