Today, at 4 PM, Michael Young will officially retire from baseball. He'll do so as a Texas Ranger, a fitting end for a player that spent 13 of 14 Major League seasons playing home games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Michael Young won't make it into the Hall of Fame by any means, but his contributions to the organization have been appreciated nonetheless. Even though there are some, myself included, that have at times mocked the idea of keeping Young around merely for leadership purposes, for the better part of 13 seasons in Texas, Michael Young was Mr. Ranger.
When Young first came up to the Majors, he did so as a 2nd baseman in the shadow of Alex Rodriguez. From there, Young continually changed positions -- usually somewhat reluctantly -- to accomodate the only franchise he knew. For most of his career, the Rangers were an also-ran, watching the rest of the division from the bottom.
I know for me, most of the excitement of going to a game at the ballpark involved watching Michael Young. Given what I know now, I was relatively uneducated when it came to baseball, so for me, watching Young snag a ball in the field looked just as impressive -- sometimes more so -- than if he had properly fielded the ball.
For most of his career, he was the only consistent force in a lineup that never struggled to put up big numbers, but couldn't carry the club to the postseason. When the Rangers finally smelled success, he was still an important part of a fierce lineup that included, depending on the year, any combination of Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Vladimir Guerrero, Ian Kinsler, and Mike Napoli.
Despite not even being the best player on either of the Rangers American League Championship teams, I contend that there was nothing more beautiful than watching Michael Young lace an opposite-field hit into the outfield. In that, Young had a niche unlike any other player on the roster. After all, who could forget the 2006 All-Star game? If you're among the unfortunate that don't remember, if you watch at the 2:05 mark of the video, you can see Young's triple that gave the AL a victory.
Sure, he was critized -- often fairly -- for his glove skills and footwork in the field, but in an era in which versatility is an asset of its own, Michael Young brought that to the Rangers for 13 mostly solid and consistent seasons. Never a superstar, but always a pretty good player, he never went on the disabled list even though, according to a new piece by Ken Rosenthal, Young often played hurt.
According to the article, Young dealt with achilles pain for much of the final seven years of his career, and noted that he felt some decline in his final two seasons due to the wear and tear on his body.
In 2012, I felt my swing was in knots the whole year. This year, I went through stretches where I felt great. Then I went through stretches where I felt like I was in pain. Earlier in my career, I could play through pain and still be extremely productive. This year, I felt like I was just playing in pain. Every time I went through a tough stretch, I felt like, 'I know how to do this, I've done it before.' But it got a little tougher to do. That's the nature of playing the game in your mid-to-late 30s.
In reading that, you get the sense that the reality of an aging body finally caught up with Young and convinced his mind that it wasn't worth it to play baseball in the Major Leagues just for the sake of racking up numbers. Then again, Young never seemed hell-bent on piling up fancy statistics to begin with, even though his consistency won him an American League batting title in 2005.
In the end, the only regret I have for Young and his career is that he didn't get a World Series ring. He came about as close as you can get without actually getting one, and I know I speak for many when I say I wish it didn't have to happen that way. For that, I'm sorry that they couldn't quite get it done.
No matter, as Michael Young was a fan favorite, was well-respected around baseball, by his own teammates, and tasted a level of team success that many players never achieve. For that, I'm proud to say that Michael Young, my favorite player during a stretch in which the franchise didn't give me many reasons to keep cheering, was a Texas Ranger, and that he'll retire that way. Thanks for the fun memories, MY, and I hope to see you involved with the organization again in the future.