Michael Young, the anti-A-Rod, getting another well-deserved honor
This is about a certain baseball player who has been in the news lately, and here are a few clues: Years ago, near the start of his now record-laden career, he was traded to the Texas Rangers, a team that would make him very rich. He played his first full season for the Rangers in 2001 and then three years later, after a big trade with Yankees, he moved from one infield position to another. He is now in his late 30s, and given recent events people are wondering whether he'll ever play in the majors again. While it's clear that this player will receive some Hall of Fame votes one day, all things considered he's a longshot to get in.
Michael Young is a 37-year-old unsigned free agent these days, his 13 seasons with the Rangers and his 2013 with the Phillies and Dodgers behind him, and last week it came out that he's weighing retirement. "I know that when my career is over, I'll have no regrets," he once told MLB.com.
Okay, so Young is not exactly Alex Rodriguez in the record book (nor, presumably, in the gummy bear aisle at your local drug store) but this is a man who after breaking in as a rookie second baseman alongside A-Rod, then a newly minted $252 million shortstop, became the Rangers' all-time leader in hits, runs and at-bats. Doubles too. If you lived in Dallas around the middle of the aughts it seemed like every time you looked up there was Michael Young standing on second base again with his batting gloves on.
Young isn't a three-time league MVP with 654 home runs or anything, but still: Seven All-Star games, one batting title, a Gold Glove, 2,375 career hits, 1,919 runs, a .300 batting average. And here's another way in which he's not like his old teammate A-Rod: If Young does get some support for the Hall of Fame one day it will be because of the voter instruction to consider "integrity, sportsmanship, character," and not in spite of it.
"What comes to mind when you think of Michael Young," says Rangers' broadcaster Eric Nadel, "is total class. He's the ultimate team guy -- on the field, in the clubhouse, in the community, he just does everything the right way."
By that, Nadel, who'll be in Cooperstown himself this summer to receive the Ford C. Frick Award, doesn't just mean that Young can drive the outside pitch to the opposite field (which he does), he also means that there is a reason why Young was the Rangers' nominee for baseball's Roberto Clemente Award four straight seasons. That recognizes the charity work Young does, the way he gets right down in the weeds giving his time, his money, his leadership to deliver things that some children really need, like medical supplies, scholarships and hope. The Clemente Award goes to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball."
Young was also twice named the players' association Marvin Miller Man of the Year (because his "on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement") and on Tuesday night, in a further sign that the league and the players can indeed agree on some things, he'll receive another award named after another important man -- the Bart Giamatti Award. This one's earmarked for a player who shows "uncommon compassion" that extends beyond the bounds of the game, and Young will get it from the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) at its annual fundraising banquet in midtown Manhattan. The Baseball Assistance Team has been around more than a quarter century now, raising money and lending support to those in the game -- retired umps, ex-ballplayers, club employees -- who've had a bad run. Something like $29 million over the years to players like former Mets catcher Barry Lyons who had his life flipped upside down by Hurricane Katrina.
MVP awards and batting titles make it onto the statistics pages, but plenty of people in baseball believe that coming up to get an award at the B.A.T. dinner -- Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and late players association leader Michael Weiner will also be honored this week -- is about as high in the game as anyone can climb.
Young was the Rangers' de facto captain, the Derek Jeter of the Ballpark in Arlington. After A-Rod was traded to New York before the 2004 season, Young went to Texas manager Buck Showalter and volunteered to move to shortstop. He moved to third base when Elvis Andrus came up in 2009, and started DHing to make room for Adrian Beltre in 2011. (Young squawked about those last two moves, then quit complaining and got down to work.) Current Rangers manager Ron Washington liked having Young around to keep the team grinding through hard times.
He is a free agent now, looking for work -- don't believe that retirement talk, Young wants to play -- and he could still be an asset at the right price. The Dodgers need infield help and Young's old Rangers need another righty bat. Maybe the Orioles could use him. Maybe the Red Sox. And oh yes, of course, let's not forget that the Yankees have an opening at third.