When Michael Young broke into the big leagues, his mentor was Alex Rodriguez.
Think about that — A-Rod took Michael Young under his wing to mold him. More than 13 years later, A-Rod could write a book on how to alienate the world while Young is celebrated with his own retirement news conference.
On Friday afternoon, the Rangers and Young officially moved on as the veteran infielder formally retired. A relationship that began on the big-league level in 2000 ended the right way in 2014.
The man who was so instrumental in Young leaving town, general manager Jon Daniels, sat next to Young at the news conference. This was not a staged photo op.
When introducing Young, the GM choked up a bit, although it wasn’t fun for him when Rangers manager Ron Washington spoke about the player who defiantly stood up for him through the worst times.
Young may never have been JD’s guy at second base, shortstop, third base, first base or anywhere else, but he always recognized the impact Young made on his team. The Rangers may have found an upgrade over Young’s numbers, but they never found his equal as a pro, teammate or leader.
Young got it in a way few ever do.
The numerologists, economists and number lovers, who prefer baseball to be played on a computer, all celebrated the retirement of the enemy of Strat-O-Matic baseball, Michael Young.
For reasons known only to those who quantify a ballplayer’s worth by numbers, Young was an overhyped, overpaid, overvalued member of a club — beloved only because he was nice to the media.
Stupid, meet dumb.
Young’s value to the franchise not only could be quantified in six 200-hit seasons, a .300 career average, but the everyday approach he embraced. Ballplayers follow the leader, and the highest-paid player. When the Rangers began winning, their highest-paid player was their leader, who was a total professional.
One of the biggest reasons you fell in love with this team was how Young showed his teammates how to act.
“He always knew the proper things to say so his teammates would show up the next day to fight,” Washington said. “The positive attitude he created in that clubhouse was because he kept an open mind. He never jumped the gun on anything. You never knew when Michael was having a bad day.”
You may forget that when Young arrived in 2000, having been acquired in a trade with Toronto for pitcher Esteban Loaiza, his role models were A-Rod and Rafael Palmeiro.
How Young grew to be the player and professional he did when he was surrounded by prima donnas (including Carl Everett, John Rocker, Juan Gonzalez and Kenny Rogers) defies logic.
When the Rangers began to turn their roster over, and dealt A-Rod in ’04, the face of their team was a three-year pro. He knew everyone in that clubhouse was watching him, and that responsibility mattered to him.
“I did feel that way. A lot is made of leadership. There is only one way to lead — be yourself. You don’t sign up for it,” Young said. “You are who you are. If they are following, you are leading. I showed up in 2004 and I felt all eyes on me. Alex had just been traded. I wasn’t going to try to do anything different. You can’t fool your teammates. They saw that, they respected that, and that was good for me.”
Young won an American League batting title in ’05, and despite playing for a franchise that had one winning season in his first eight years as a big leaguer, he somehow never begged to get out of town.
When the Rangers finally did win, baseball people celebrated that Young finally got his chance to play in the postseason.
But in those final seasons with the Rangers, his shortcomings came under great scrutiny from Daniels, who followed the lead of his former mentor, GM John Hart. Young never fit the description of the type infielder they wanted. They always wanted somebody else.
He could have continued to play this season for the Dodgers, but he is 37 and, for Young, it was time. He has three boys with his wife here in Texas, and he wants to be closer to home.
Young won’t be in Cooperstown, and there is no World Series ring.
“We were better. Flat out,” Young said of the Rangers’ loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. “We didn’t get the ring, but that was a championship club.”
He is right, and because he got it in a way that few ever do, Young’s legacy with this franchise, the game and this region is secure. There was never a better role model.
Michael Young had one hell of a career, and he set the example for this generation of Rangers to follow.
Not bad for a guy whose mentor was A-Rod.