Commentary

Dos and don'ts of switching teams

Guidelines for Josh Hamilton and Kevin Youkilis. Oh, and Octavio Dotel, too.

Originally Published: February 20, 2013
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

If Kevin Youkilis has divided emotions over switching teams, just imagine how Octavio Dotel feels. He's with his 13th team.

I'm proud to be a Tiger, with whom I've gone to a World Series. But my heart will always be in St. Louis, where I won a World Series with the Cardinals. I would say my soul is with my first team, the Mets, but they probably pawned it to meet payroll.

I also will always feel a part of the Pirates in my gut because all that losing makes you nauseous. I guess I also will always feel the Rockies in my lungs because of Colorado's mile-high elevation and my sky-high 6.75 ERA there. And in my elbow, I still feel part of the Yankees, where I spent almost five months of one season on the DL after Tommy John surgery. In my kidneys, I will always be an Athletic, because there wasn't a bathroom in the Oakland bullpen.

I may have left my rear end in Atlanta because I sat on the bench there so much. I don't have anything left in Los Angeles because of the McCourt divorce settlement. Nor in Toronto, due to some very suspicious border agents. But I left my spleen in Kansas City in case Carl Pavano needs it.

In my mind, I am still an Astro, where I pitched for five years and was part of a six-pitcher no-hitter against the Yankees, though I must say I'm really glad none of my body is in Houston this season. Or next. And in my wallet, I will always feel I am a White Sox because they paid me $11 million to win six games!

OK, enough of that. Back to Youkilis, who has his own team-identification issues. He told reporters last week, "I'll always be a Red Sock," then got blasted for it and had to clarify matters by saying, "My heart is in New York" and "I am proud to be a Yankee."

[+] EnlargeDotel
James Nielsen/AFP/Getty Images Twelve years ago, Octavio Dotel was on Team No. 2. Do they boo him in Houston now?

New York fans and media, however, should not criticize Youkilis for expressing that he'll always feel part of the Red Sox, with whom he spent more than eight seasons and won two World Series. Nor should Boston fans or media rip him for signing with the hated Yankees, because the Red Sox basically told him good riddance when they traded him away last summer.

Then there is Josh Hamilton, who got Texas fans riled up this week when he said that while Dallas supports the Rangers, it has "always been a football town." A shocking claim, I know. Could it really be true that football is more popular than baseball in Dallas? Well, a colleague recalls listening to a sports radio show there during the 2011 World Series. The hosts were not discussing the seven-game nail-biter between the Cardinals and the hometown Rangers, but instead were debating the Cowboys' third-string fullback.

The outrage about what Hamilton said isn't so much that he's wrong. It's because he said it after he left the Rangers to sign a $125 million contract with the Angels. (And also after he dropped a routine fly ball in a crucial, division-deciding game and went 0-for-4 in the wild-card loss in October.)

Switching teams, as you can see, is rarely easy for an established player. Or for the fans. So here are some guidelines.

Loyalty is a two-way street. Fans may feel betrayed when a veteran player signs somewhere else, but a player who was a team hero and led the club to championships probably feels equally betrayed when he returns to his old home and fans boo him relentlessly and make rude comments about his wife, his mother and his pet dog just because he sought a better-paying job somewhere else.

Don't forget the past, fans. If a beloved player was crucial to your team's success (and your happiness), remember that and don't boo just because he's wearing a different uniform now (even if it has pinstripes). For example, even if Tim Lincecum one day signs with the Dodgers -- heaven forbid! -- Giants fans still should honor the important role he played in San Francisco winning its only two World Series. Even if you can't bring yourself to keep cheering an ex-player, you don't have to boo him, either. Or at least don't bring his mother into it.

And players, if you are going to sign elsewhere, show some respect for your old fans and avoid immediately switching to a hated rival, unless no one else wants you. But if you do sign with a rival after turning down a competitive offer from your old team, better pack earplugs and check in under an assumed name when you return for a series. You might also want to go on the DL that week.

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Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesAt least Josh Hamilton can't say his new city is a football town.

No trade clause. Don't boo a player who is traded away. After all, it isn't his fault the general manager got rid of him for a couple of prospects who will never pan out. Unless the player demanded the trade. Or pouted and gave less than 100 percent because he was so unhappy with his contract that he made a trade necessary. In that case, bring an amplifier.

Be honest. A player leaving a team to sign for $50 million more elsewhere must never, ever say, "It's not about the money." Hey, we may line up 16 hours early for bobblehead night, but that doesn't mean we're complete morons. Of course it's about the money! Fans won't like you changing teams, but we'll accept it a lot more readily if you're at least truthful about why you're leaving. This is America. We all want more money. There's no shame in admitting it, only in pretending it wasn't a factor, Alex Rodriguez.

But not too honest. Do not publicly criticize your old team unless you are prepared to wear the sort of ear protection usually reserved for workers on an airport runway, or Milton Bradley.

Of course, all this is much easier when a player is good enough to name his price and also loyal enough to not insist on looking for someone to name an even higher price. Like Felix Hernandez, who signed a $175 million deal with the Mariners last week two years ahead of free agency.

"I never considered leaving Seattle. I always said that this is home. This is my life," he said. "If you feel comfortable and happy in a place, and believe in the people, are you going to go anywhere?"

Felix is proud to be a Mariner. His heart will always be in Seattle and he doesn't think his fans are spoiled by success. Now, that's a player you can cheer.

CSI: Box Score

Each week, I provide a fragment from an old box score and challenge you to determine what game it is from and why it's significant. The challenge for you is to figure out why. I give this one a difficulty rating of 7. Answer below:

boxscoreKurt Snibbe/ESPN.com

Baseball Card of the Week

As we continue our trip into the time capsule that is the 1988 Topps set, this card of Fred McGriff (No. 463) is further proof that Tom Emanski never taught the fundamentals of properly wearing a baseball cap.

Yeah, Well, That's Like, That's Just Your Opinion, Man

For Instance, Stringing "Grueling Spring Training" Together. Playbook colleague DJ Gallo had a very funny look at grueling spring training workouts earlier this week. By the way, one unappreciated aspect of spring training is how many consecutive words you can write that end in "ing" with the sentence still making sense.

Of Course, I May Need To Pack Another Suitcase To Get It To Spring Training. I've started reading "The Last Lion," the long-awaited final volume to the late William Manchester's epic biography on Winston Churchill. Manchester died in 2004 but selected Paul Reid to use his voluminous notes and finish the book. It is 1,232 pages of very small type and weighs 3½ pounds. It's not a swift read; but like Churchill himself, it is compelling, fascinating and invigorating. My goal is to finish by Opening Day.

CSI: Box Score Answer

This fragment was in keeping with the column theme of switching teams. That's because the necessary clues were the presence of all those famous Dodgers (Garvey, Cey, Russell) surrounding a famous Giant. Juan Marichal had six 20-win seasons with San Francisco, where he won 238 games and eventually had his number retired. But the Giants sold him to the Red Sox in October 1973 for $100,000, and he signed with the Dodgers one year later. He pitched just two games for Los Angeles -- this box is from the first one, April 12, 1975 -- before ending his career.

By the way, from May 1972, to October 1973, the Giants got rid of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Marichal, receiving only Charlie Williams, Mike Caldwell and $150,000 in exchange. And Red Sox fans think they suffered?

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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