Why do so many people hate/love new Rays RF Carlos Gomez so much?

Gomez's reputation precedes him as he joins Rays this weekend.
New Rays OF Carlos Gomez tends to be in the spotlight no matter what he does. [Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images]
New Rays OF Carlos Gomez tends to be in the spotlight no matter what he does. [Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images]
Published March 1, 2018|Updated March 1, 2018

PORT CHARLOTTE — Carlos Gomez is expected to finally join the Rays Friday, and his reputation definitely precedes him.

Excited to add the muli-talented veteran as a replacement in rightfield for traded Steven Souza Jr.,  the Rays are well aware Gomez "plays with energy." Is "emotional.'' Tends to be "animated.'' Has "an edge." And whatever other polite euphemisms can be applied to a guy who can be the most loved and hated on the field — at the same time.

And they can't wait for him to walk in the door.

"The way I'd explain it,'' said Rays veteran Denard Span, "is that you'd rather have him on your team than playing against him. Because he's a headache when you're playing against him.''

Hmm … wonder why?

He'll mix it up

Google Gomez, 32, and the hit parade starts with highlights of on-field altercations he's been involved in — and usually gets the rap for instigating, even though he felt wronged.

For how he reacted after a homer against the Braves in 2013. For a bat flip against the Pirates in 2014. For a slide against the Nats in 2015. And for other reasons against the Yankees in 2015, and twice against his former Astros mates in 2017.

RELATED: Videos of the brawls Carlos Gomez has started

"If you back him into a corner, he's shown that he's not afraid to take some action,'' said Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier. "I love that. I love guys who stand up for what they believe in.''

He plays hard all the time

Gomez has had some years when he played really well, making back-to-back  All-Star teams after hitting .284 with 24 homers and an .843 OPS for the Brewers in 2013 and then .284-23-.833. And even last year in Texas, hitting .255-17-.802 in 105 games.

Gomez has had some years when he has not played well, most glaringly for Houston in 2016, when he hit .210-5-.594 and got DFA'd in August.

But he always plays hard, which even Astros GM Jeff Luhnow acknowledged in dumping him.

"I was so pumped when I heard about us signing him,'' Kiermaier said. "He's a guy who just loves baseball. Every time he takes the field, it doesn't matter if you're up eight runs or down eight, he's going to go and play with that intensity.''

Kiermaier —  who's in pretty good shape himself — marvels at Gomez's physical tools, noting the combination of power and speed he gets from his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame. "He's a freak,'' Kiermaier said. "He's huge. His legs are like he's an NFL running back. It's impressive.''

He can be entertaining

Gomez isn't known only for what he does on the field, but how he does it, playing with a certain, shall we say, pizazz, and having a sense of style. "He's definitely not afraid to throw some flair in there,'' Kiermaier said.

Also, apparently, a sense of humor.

"Very excited to have that guy in the lineup and the clubhouse,'' said catcher Wilson Ramos, who teamed with Gomez in Minnesota. "We lost Steven Souza, who was one of the funny guys in the clubhouse, so we have Carlos now. He's like Souza, he jokes around all the time. And he's fun to watch play. … You want that guy on your side."

Added Span, another former Twins teammate: "He brings a lot of energy. He's a great clubhouse guy. And he's always going to keep the mood light.''

He can be misunderstood

Having faced Gomez during most of his 11 years in the majors, Rays reliever Sergio Romo can tick off a bunch of reasons why people watching him are often ticked off.

"He's not a bad player, he's not a bad person,'' Romo said.  "His personality. The way he plays — aggressive in the box, on the basepaths, on the field in general. He's very animated. So it's easy in my opinion to read him wrong, or to sit there and find him frustrating, playing against him.

"But off the field, from everything I know about him, and my experiences with him, he's a Grade A-human being. He's family first.''

When news broke last week of Gomez agreeing to a one-year, $4-million deal with the Rays, four writers who covered him at previous stops reached out to me, unsolicited, to put in a good word against his bad reputation.

The gist: Explaining he just wants to be loved and only gets in trouble when he lets his emotions get the best of him.

"Some of the things he's done, in my opinion, have been taken the wrong way or whatever, but he's a guy who always means well,'' Romo said. "He plays hard. He's very, how do you say, very animated in everything he does. I find that entertaining or interesting myself. You see that guy, it's hard not to smile at him.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays