BY: Richard W. Humphrey
On Thursday afternoon, the Twitter universe lit up confirming the rumor fans had been hearing for days – Michael Young would retire rather than return for a 15th season. The 37 year-old Young played 13 of his 14 seasons in a Ranger uniform, and retired as a Ranger with the formal announcement at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Friday afternoon.
“I played with two great organizations last year, and I had a blast; but my time in Texas was the 13 best years of my life,” Young told the assembled media. He was joined by Jon Daniels, the General Manager with whom he was often at odds toward the end of his Ranger days, and by his former manager Ron Washington. “I was very fortunate to be part of an organization where one day didn’t go by that I didn’t feel valued,” Young said about his Ranger tenure.
Young was traded after the 2012 season to Philadelphia, and toward the end of last year with the Phillies out of pennant contention, he was traded again to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Young was said to have had three solid offers for the 2014 season, including one from the Dodgers that included the promise of a prominent role that included at least 500 at bats. He chose instead to retire to spend more time with his family – his wife Cristina and three sons. “As much as I love baseball, I’m ready for the next chapter in my life.”
He was also appreciative of Ranger fans, with whom he has always been immensely popular. “I can’t say enough about them. They welcomed me with open arms and were behind in good times and in bad. It was my honor to play in front of them every day. I owe this community everything.”
Young was originally drafted by Baltimore in 1994, but chose to attend college instead. Three years later, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the fifth round of the amateur draft. In 2000, with the Rangers out of the race and the Blue Jays in one, Texas traded starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza to Toronto for an outstanding pitching prospect – Darwin Cubillan, and a throw in shortstop – Michael Young. Young did get a short call up to the Rangers on the last weekend of the season, failing to get a hit in the Rangers’ final game in his only at bat.
That winter, the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez, with the thought that he would be the team’s shortstop for the next decade. Young was consequently shuttled to second base. In 2001, he took over the Rangers’ second base job on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend – May 25 – in Baltimore. It was the finale of a four game series, and he did get his first Major League hit that day.
On a personal note, I was in Baltimore that day and witnessed the first hit. I was in Arlington in 2011 when he got his 2000th hit. I have to think there are no more than a dozen people who witnessed both hits live.
A year later, John Hart took over as the Rangers’ General Manager. He pronounced that Young was not a good enough offensive player to be the team’s regular second baseman. Ultimately though, manager Jerry Narron decided that Young’s defense was too valuable, and played him regularly. Narron was fired after the season, but Young was entrenched as the Rangers’ second baseman.
In 2003, Young rang up 204 hits, the first of five consecutive seasons to get at least 200 base knocks. That says worlds about Hart’s tenure as Rangers’ GM. He stepped down after the 2005 season. The Rangers were 311-337 during Hart’s four years as GM, a .480 winning percentage.
Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees prior to the 2004 season, and the Rangers received second baseman Alfonso Soriano in return. Young moved back to shortstop where he won the Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence in 2008. That was his last year as a regular shortstop as the Rangers moved him to third base in 2009 to make room for Elvis Andrus at shortstop. He became a utility player/designated hitter in 2011 when the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre as a free agent. The Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant tweeted that Young is the only Major League player to make 400 starts at second base, third base and shortstop in the last 90 years.
Young finishes his career with 2,375 hits and a .300 batting average. He made the All-Star team seven times, won the American League batting championship in 2005, and was the MVP of the 2006 All-Star game. Those aren’t Hall of Fame numbers. Had he chosen to play two or three more years, he likely would have boosted his career totals to qualify him for serious Hall of Fame consideration. He does hold the Rangers’ club record in almost every offensive category, so he will definitely become a member of the Rangers’ Hall of Fame, as he is simply one of the three best Rangers ever, if not the very best.
The accolades from players came in quickly. Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, arguably the best second baseman in baseball right now tweeted, “Thanks to Michael Young on always setting the example on how to play the game. I was told to watch every step he made my first year.”
His former teammate Josh Hamilton tweeted, “Commitment, leadership, and sacrifice are three words to sum up Michael Young’s incredible career. Love that guy.”
Young made more than $90 million in salary during his baseball career, a huge amount even for Major League baseball player standards. Often, players’ financial demands alienate them from fans. Look no further than Josh Hamilton and his departure from the Rangers. He is the most important player in the two most successful seasons in Ranger history, but he is booed incessantly when he returns to Arlington as a member of the Angels, and money is at the root of the problem.
Young handled his situation well. The Ranger fortunes were bleak for the first decade of the 21st century. From 2000 through 2009, the team finished above .500 just once. The arrival of Ron Washington as manager did not appear to close to changing the team’s fortunes, as he was all but fired in 2009. Young remained firmly committed to being a Ranger throughout the bad years. Fans never heard any carping about wanting to be traded to a winning team. Fans never heard that he wasn’t willing to sign an extension so that he could go to a winning team as a free agent a la Mark Teixeira. Michael was never about money. He was about baseball and the Texas Rangers, and the fans always appreciated him.
He’ll be missed. Missed by the game, missed by his teammates, and missed by the fans. There is talk of his coming back in some sort of advisory role with the Rangers. Texas has certainly made similar roles available to former players Greg Maddux and Ivan Rodriguez. Hopefully that will happen for Michael too.
The only regret that Young expressed during the press conference was a pang that many Ranger fans share – the World Series loss in seven games to the Cardinals in 2011. The Rangers were one strike away from the win, but when a catchable fly ball to right field didn’t get caught, the Series turned to the Cardinals. “I’m over it, but I’m not over it,” Young said. Amen.