Young retires a consummate pro
Former Rangers fixture leaves behind a team-first legacy
Michael Young won a Gold Glove playing shortstop for the Texas Rangers in 2008, and even if you didn't know a single other thing about him, the story behind that award gets to the essence of most of what he came to stand for among the teammates, managers and especially the fans who absolutely adored the guy.
Young announced his retirement on Thursday, saying simply that the time had come to get on with the next chapter of his life. He's 37 and coming off a season in which he batted .279 in 147 games for the Phillies and Dodgers.
He had multiple offers, including one from the Dodgers and another from the Brewers. There would have been something of a completing of the circle had he signed with the Brewers, because their general manager, Doug Melvin, is the guy who acquired him from the Blue Jays while running the Rangers.
But a combination of factors -- distance from family, playing time and perhaps changing teams again -- appears to have nudged him toward the door. He leaves as a career .300 hitter and a seven-time All-Star. He won a batting championship in 2005 and is the Rangers' all-time leader in hits with 2,230.
Between 2002 and '13, he averaged 155 games per season and never spent a day on the disabled list. He's also the only player in at least 90 years to have started 400 games at second, short and third. Which brings us back to that 2008 Gold Glove Award.
The Rangers traded their shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, to the New York Yankees at the beginning of Spring Training in 2004. In return, they got Alfonso Soriano, who they thought would replace Rodriguez at short.
When Soriano showed up at Spring Training, he made it clear he didn't want to play short. He'd been a full-time second baseman for three seasons with the Yankees and didn't like the idea of moving.
Suddenly, the Rangers had two accomplished second basemen. Before the situation had a chance to get ugly, Young showed up one morning, stepped into Rangers manager Buck Showalter's office and closed the door.
"I'll play short," he said.
He'd been the Rangers' starting second baseman for the first three seasons of his career and had played only a handful of games at short, usually in late-inning-replacement situations. To make that kind of switch would not be the easiest of adjustments.
Meanwhile, Soriano had spent most of his Minor League career at short. Young told reporters at the time he did it because he liked the challenge of playing short. Yet, what virtually every teammate -- and Showalter -- knew was something else. He did it to make the new guy's transition smoother and the Rangers better.
"Typical Michael Young," Showalter said. "He's one of those guys who'll do whatever is best for the club. You don't find a lot of guys like that."
Young poured himself into learning the position and made the first of six straight All-Star appearances that season. He won the Gold Glove in his fifth -- and as it turned out, final -- season at short.
Along the way, he established himself as the face of a franchise. Every once in a while, a guy comes along who gets it on every level. In the years after A-Rod left the Rangers, Young emerged as the Rangers' most popular and productive player. At a time when the franchise was in a 10-season postseason drought, Young set a tone in the clubhouse for professionalism, work ethic and doing things right.
He also believed that he had a responsibility to be a good citizen in the community. He and his wife, Cristina, worked tirelessly on behalf of an assortment of causes, most notably issues relating to children's health and education.
In ways large and small, Young became one of those players a franchise can measure every other against. When the Rangers finally emerged from the darkness to win the first of two straight American League pennants in 2010, Young did a pretty good imitation of the happiest man on earth.
By then, he'd been asked to change positions a couple more times. He moved from short to third in 2009 to make room for Elvis Andrus and then agreed to move here, there and everywhere when third baseman Adrian Beltre was signed before the 2011 season.
By then, he'd long since established himself in the hearts and minds of Rangers fans. They'll forever remember him as a guy who was both a tremendous player and a tremendous person, someone who thought being a Major League Baseball player was about more than simply playing.
The Rangers are far different from the club he debuted with in 2000. Their growth wasn't fast, and it wasn't always smooth. But he was there when they turned the corner, and his fingerprints are all over everything they've accomplished. In the end, that's a legacy with which he can take pride.