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Almost Famous
CHRIS BALLARD
May 08, 2006
Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young is the defending American League batting champion and on track for his fourth straight 200-hit season. So why isn't he one of the game's big stars?
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May 08, 2006

Almost Famous

Texas Rangers shortstop Michael Young is the defending American League batting champion and on track for his fourth straight 200-hit season. So why isn't he one of the game's big stars?

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One thing DeRosa couldn't replicate was Young's adjustment in two-strike counts. When he's down to his last strike, Young, instead of tapping his toe, plants his left foot out front so he no longer strides into the pitch and relies more on his hands to make contact. "You don't see many guys attempting to change their swings mid-count," says DeRosa. "He's got an uncanny knack for it." The results have been impressive. On 1-and-2 counts last season, Young hit .303--or better than the overall averages of all but 20 major leaguers. Says Jaramillo, "Last year when he got two strikes, we'd say, 'Man, the pitcher is in trouble.'"

For the year Young hit .331 and finished 11th in the league's MVP voting. (He was eighth in 2004, when he hit .313 with 22 homers.) He also ranked fourth among AL shortstops in fielding percentage, having returned to his favorite position after Rodriguez was dealt to the New York Yankees before the 2004 season.

Young is off to a another hot start this year, batting .352, tied for the league lead in doubles (11) and tied for second in hits (38) through Sunday. Despite his accomplishments, however, his national profile remains low. This may be in part because Young plays on a mediocre team in Texas--"in New York, he'd be bigger than Derek Jeter," says Teixeira (chart)--and in part because he doesn't draw attention to himself. The next headline he makes for complaining in the clubhouse, throwing a tantrum on the field or running afoul of the law will be his first. In fact, if there's a knock on Young, Rangers insiders say, it's that he is not a vocal, take-charge type of leader.

Still, teammates laud the example set by Young, who never skips BP or fails to take infield grounders. He always talks to the press after games. He ritualistically pats players on the head and puts away their batting helmets after they score. DeRosa compares him with Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, saying both have a "presence," while Showalter likens Young to Don Mattingly. "I used to ask Donnie, Why do you do all this work and prep?" says Showalter, who played with and later managed the former Yankees captain. "He said, 'In the ninth inning there's a quiet confidence I get because I know I've outworked the pitcher; I'm more prepared for this situation than he is.' Mike's the same way."

Most nights on the road, Young and DeRosa will order a couple of beers and talk about the game. When they're done with the beers, Young is finished with the game too. "Whether he went 0 for 4 or 4 for 4, the next day it's gone [from his mind]," says DeRosa. "A lot of people have trouble doing that."

His batting line is not the only thing Young forgets. "Half the time, if I don't put money in his wallet, I think he'd leave with it empty," says Cristina, who majored in economics and East Asian studies at Columbia. "And I can't tell you how many times he's left the house with my phone by mistake."

Young's even-keeled nature and dry sense of humor are what drew the equally laid-back Wells to him in Toronto. The two met as minor leaguers, roomed together while in the Florida Instructional League and have remained tight. They were groomsmen in each other's weddings, and Wells was one of the first well-wishers to call after Young's first son, Mateo, was born last June. (Young chose the name because "my wife is 100 percent Mexican and I'm half Mexican, so we wanted a name that was 75 percent Mexican.")

Part of Young's appeal is his humility. This is a guy who spent part of his time at the World Baseball Classic this spring getting autographs from other players. (He was especially psyched to meet Jones and the Chicago Cubs' Derrek Lee.) His house, a 15-minute drive from Ameriquest Field, features a wall of baseball memorabilia. While Young "won't put his own stuff up," says Cristina, there are bats and jerseys from such players as Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr. and Don Mattingly.

Consider it part of the grinder mentality. If you start believing you're as good as other people say you are, you lose your edge. The next thing you know, you're talking about yourself in the third person, taking days off and trying to go Dave Kingman in batting practice. Don't expect Young to fall into that trap. "I'm a firm believer that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse," he says. "I can get better on the bases, I can tap into more power, I can improve as a shortstop...." And on and on Young goes, swiveling in his chair in an empty locker room, ticking off goals, certain that one day--if he just puts in enough hard work--he'll be a success.

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