When Octavio Dotel walks into a new clubhouse -- any clubhouse, it sometimes seems -- he greets his new teammates as old friends. Why not? He's probably played with a bunch of them at some point in his record-breaking career.
This year, the 38-year-old right-hander is a middle-innings relief pitcher for the Tigers. Last year, he was in the Cardinals and Blue Jays bullpens. In 2010, he pitched in relief for the Pirates ... and the Dodgers ... and the Rockies. And so on.
When Dotel signed on as a free agent with the Tigers last Dec. 9, he joined a record 13th Major League team in a career that began on June 26, 1999, as a starter with the Mets.
"I just walk into the clubhouse (to meet his newest teammates) and act like I know them already for three years, because everywhere I go, I have to know at least one or two guys already," he said.
"That's good because when the trade (or free-agent signing) happens, those guys can tell the other guys, 'This guy is a great guy, great teammate.' I'm not saying that. I'm saying that's what they say."
He has been traded six times. He has signed as a free agent six times. This year, Dotel surpassed Mike Morgan, Ron Villone and Matt Stairs, all of whom played for a dozen big league franchises.
"But they're all gone, and I'm still going," he said with a smile and a bit of a twinkle in his eyes.
His favorite trade? Going from the Blue Jays to the Cardinals in July 2011.
"Finally got to the World Series," he said. "Got the ring."
He has some mementos of other seasons, but when he finally finishes his odyssey -- and he says stopping at 13 teams is fine -- he plans to get a jersey from each of them.
Dotel certainly didn't plan to set such a distinctive record.
"I wasn't looking for it," he said. "But now that I have it, I'm proud of it. I'm proud of all the times teams wanted me. You've got to look at it in a good way.
"I've been with so many teams because everybody wants some piece of Dotel. It's something you've got to enjoy and feel good about. You don't want this to happen every year, but if it happens it's like, 'OK, thank you everybody, I appreciate everything. Thank you for having me here,' and you move on."
After 1999, his rookie season with the Mets (8-3 in 14 starts), he was dealt to the Astros. They made him a reliever. His last start was a May 1, 2001, loss to the Mets. After his third season, he began thinking, "This is my house; this is where I'll be for the rest of my life.'"
In June 2004, he wound up with the Athletics, part of a three-team, five-player deal. Those first two trades were tough, Dotel said.
"After that, it was like normal."
Well, mostly normal. After stints with the Yankees, Royals, Braves and White Sox, he began the 2010 season as the Pirates' closer. On July 31, he was traded to the Dodgers. No one told him. He found out about it on TV.
On Sept. 18, the Dodgers traded him to the Rockies. The teams were playing a three-game series in Los Angeles, "so I just went to the other clubhouse," he said. "When I walked in, the players didn't know about it. It was like, 'Surprise!'"
He pitched one-third of an inning against the Dodgers that day, striking out Casey Blake.
"Three teams in two months," Dotel said. "I've been through a lot of crazy things in my career. That was one of them."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.