Commentary

Call Octavio Dotel the ultimate nomad

Now with the Tigers, reliever set to establish mark by playing for record 13th team

Originally Published: March 13, 2012
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

LAKELAND, Fla. -- He finds himself on the precipice of history. The question is how Octavio Dotel should commemorate it.

Should he ship his suitcase to Cooperstown? Or should they give him his own show on the Travel Channel?

[+] EnlargeOctavio Dotel
AP Photo/Julio CortezOctavio Dotel signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Tigers in the offseason.

When he signed with the Tigers this winter, it may not have been news of quite the same magnitude as it was when the Tigers signed that Prince guy. But it was way more historic -- because it put Octavio Dotel in position to do something no player in history has ever done:

Play for 13 different teams. In the major leagues. And the fact that he's done that in only 13 years? Just makes it all the more awe-inspiring.

Three other men have played for 12 teams: Mike Morgan, Ron Villone and Matt Stairs. But "they're all done," Dotel says, proudly. Ah, but not him. Octavio Dotel just keeps on going, keeps on pitching and keeps on traveling -- right into the record books.

"I can't wait for the season to start so I can have the record," laughs the most well-traveled relief pitcher of all time. "I hope I make the team."

Oh, he's going to make the team, assuming he doesn't get hit by a moving van or something. The Tigers signed him to a guaranteed one-year, $3.5 million deal. So clearly, they want the guy.

But then again, so did the Cardinals. And the Blue Jays. And the Pirates. And all those other teams that have signed him, claimed him or traded for him over the years.

Hey, it's always great to be wanted, says Octavio Dotel -- even if it's by two or three teams every season.

"I've been all over the place, but it's not for bad," says baseball's foremost 38-year-old nomad. "It's for good, because every time I'm traded or I sign as a free agent, somebody wants me. It means I'm important -- for some reason."

Well, he has racked up nearly 200 more strikeouts (1,077) than innings pitched (888 1/3) in his travels. So that would be one reason. And he's dominated right-handed hitters for more than a decade (.202./.274/.364, with nearly twice as many strikeouts as hits). So that would be another reason.

But whatever the reason, his page on baseball-reference.com looks like one of those boards in the airport that lists arrivals and departures.

New York … Houston … Oakland … New York again … Kansas City … Atlanta … Chicago … Pittsburgh … Los Angeles … Colorado … Toronto … St. Louis.

You name the city. Octavio Dotel has probably pitched there.

"I've been all over the place," he says. "I've been in every league. Every division, too: West, Central, East. National League -- boom, boom, boom. American League -- boom, boom, boom."

He has been traded six times. He's changed teams as a free agent the other six times. He's spent spring training in nine different exotic locales -- from Surprise to Kissimmee, from Tucson to Dunedin.

He has played with Julio Franco and Mark Grudzielanek and Masato Yoshii. He has hung out in bullpens with Billy Wagner and Armando Benitez and Hipolito Pichardo. He has thrown to Mike Piazza and Brad Ausmus and two different Molina brothers (Jose and Yadier).

I've been all over the place. I've been in every league. Every division, too: West, Central, East. National League -- boom, boom, boom. American League -- boom, boom, boom.

-- Octavio Dotel

"Thirteen teams in 13 years," Dotel says. "It's kinda crazy."

As awesome records go, this one may not be up there with DiMaggio's hitting streak or Ripken's iron-man act. But it still deserves its special moment in the Florida sun. So we asked Mr. Travelocity to share the highlights of his journey into the record book:

• The teammates: According to baseball-reference.com, Dotel has played with 601 different players in the big leagues. "Wow," he says. "That's a lot." And that doesn't even include all the guys hanging around the clubhouse of his new team, where he has played only with Gerald Laird. So there's a lot more where that came from. "I only have 13 years, but it feels like I have 20," Dotel says, "because I know so many people."

• The Hall of Famer: Amazingly, of those 601 teammates, only one has been elected to the Hall of Fame. Upon hearing that, Dotel names him within seconds. "Oh," he says. "Rickey Henderson. Great guy. Great teammate. And I didn't expect that. Especially when I came to New York, because I'm a rookie, and he was Rickey Henderson. But he was really, really great to young guys. He talked to me a lot. He made jokes with me. For being who he was, he was a really, really nice guy."

• The spring travelogue: When he learns that he has now spent spring training in nine different towns, Dotel smiles: "Wow. That's another record, too." In the beginning, he says, changing camps all the time was no fun. Couldn't find the ballpark. Didn't know where to live. "Now," he says, laughing uproariously, "I got used to it. It's like a regular routine."

• Best spring training abode: "Gotta be when I was with Pittsburgh, in Bradenton. I had a great house, on the water. I mean, the water was my patio. What could be better than that?"

• On getting traded six times: "One year, I love to be traded. One year, I don't love to be traded," he says. "Last year, I looovvve to be traded [to St. Louis]. … We won the World Series."

• Craziest way he found out he was traded: "When I was in Pittsburgh, I find out I was traded to the Dodgers on TV. I see it, and nobody has told me nothing. And I'm like, 'When did that come out?' Then the manager [John Russell] tells me, 'Hey, did you see the news?' But that was after I see it: 'Dotel traded to the Dodgers.' I'm like, 'What? No.' But my teammates say, 'Yeah.' By the way, I was eating, and they say, 'It's on TV right now.' I came out to see it, and I was like, 'I guess you guys were right.' I was like, 'Wow. How crazy is that?'"

• Trade he never saw coming: Just seven weeks after that move to the Dodgers, Dotel got traded again, via a waiver deal to the Rockies -- in mid-September. "The GM [Ned Colletti] calls me into the office, and he says, 'We just traded you,'" Dotel reminisces. "I was like, 'What? You're kidding, right?' He says, 'No, no, no. We traded you.' I say, 'Where?' He says, 'You're going to the next clubhouse.' It was in Dodger Stadium, and we were playing against Colorado. So I just have to go down the tunnel to the other clubhouse there. I walk in, and I say, 'I'm here. The new guy is here.' But it was even a surprise to them. They don't even know it. And the good thing was, I pitched the same night. How crazy is that? One day on this side. The next day on the other side."

• The toughest trade: After 4½ years with the Astros, Dotel thought he'd found a home. Then, in June of 2004, he suddenly wound up in Oakland, as part of the three-team deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston. "It was hard for me to understand that trade," he says. "That one was tough. I even had to call my family. I was depressed. I was down. So I had to call my family and say, 'Hurry up. Get here. I need you guys.'"

• The secret to being the new guy: When you're the Cy Young of changing teams, you become the ultimate expert on relocation. And the expert says: "If I had to give advice to somebody who got traded, I'd say, 'Just be the same guy you are. Don't change anything. Just go over there, have fun, meet everybody you need to meet and keep it simple.' I get to places sometimes, and I walk in like I've been there for the whole season. You know how it is. When you don't know nobody, you're kind of shy. With me, it's different. I walk in and go, 'Hey, what's up guys?' Like I know everybody forever. I make it easy for myself. You have to. After you've been traded so many times … you've gotta be a nice guy. If not, nobody wants you."

• His other records: There aren't a lot of other entries in Dotel's personal record book. He was part of the only six-pitcher no-hitter in baseball history (Astros versus Yankees). He was once the only pitcher ever to make at least 16 starts and save 16 games in the same season (2000 Astros), but Dustin Hermanson (2004 Giants) later did it, too. And bet you didn't know he has struck out more hitters in relief (882) than any pitcher in baseball since we flipped our calendars to the year 2000. "But this record is the best record," Dotel says of his lucky 13 teams, "because nobody else in history has it."

• How he found out about his record: "After I got traded to St. Louis, that's when I started hearing that I tied it, that I tied three other guys in history who played with 12 teams. And I said, 'Really? Wow. Pretty nice.' And immediately, I think, 'It would be nice if I break it.' So from that point on, I thought, well, I would love to stay in St. Louis because the team was really good, but at the same time, I was like, well, if I sign with somebody else, that would be good, too, because that way I'm going to break the record."

• What the big moment will be like: It will happen some day in April. The bullpen gates will open. And history will be made. We can see it now. In the stands, grown men will weep. In Bristol, Conn., programming will be interrupted. Across America, chills will ripple down millions of spines. … OK, possibly none of the above will happen. But that's all right, too, with the man who will set this magical record. Asked if he thinks the Tigers will at least stop the game, Dotel laughs one more time.

"I don't think so," he says. "It's kind of hard. Just because I've been on different teams and different places, I don't think it's gonna be that exciting for the fans. But it's gonna be good for me. I'm happy to have that record."

So now that he has made history, now that he has pulled on his 13th uniform, it's time to wonder: How high can he go? Can he get to 15 teams? Twenty? How about all 30 teams? Then it would, for sure, be the record that could never be broken.

But when Octavio Dotel is asked if he wants to keep on going, the man who should be the official spokesman for Conde Nast just shakes his head.

"No," he says. "I'm good with 13. But if it ever happens? Hey, I'll take it happy -- with no problem."

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com