Thursday, March 20, 2014

2 comments This Is Not a Hit-Job on Michael Young, It's Just Me Noticing the Difference in Reality and the Perception of Michael Young

Michael Young retired recently. Good for him. He was a very good player while he was in the majors. His reputation as the consummate team player is still intact, kept alive by beat and national writers who worship the ground he walks on. This despite the fact Young has demanded a trade twice in his career. I have detailed two of the idoltastic (yep, that's not a word) columns written on Michael Young here and here. I don't dislike the guy, but the perception of him as a team player seems to be a little bit different from his actions as a team least at certain times this is true. Well, Richard Justice writes a column in memoriam of Young's career and it's just a little bit revisionist for me. The sub-title of the column is "Former Rangers fixture leaves a team-first legacy." As long as you don't include his overall grumpiness at being asked to move positions and his trade demands, then yes, he was a team player. I think that has to be a part of his legacy and not something that gets quickly mentioned and glossed over.

I feel like a lot of my criticism of Michael Young is of the "I'm just saying..." variety where Young says something about moving positions or a beat writer says Young is a team player and I feel obligated to point out there are some non-team player aspects to Young's career. For example, recently Michael Young said this. 

Yes, he really isn't saying very much. He just says he wonders what could have happened if he had played second base his entire career. The problem is I know he was bitter about having to move to third base when Elvis Andrus came along and bitter about moving to DH when Adrian Beltre/Mike Napoli joined the Rangers as their starting third baseman. So I probably read some bitterness into his comment that may or may not be there. It sounds bitter to me though. It sounds like, "If the Rangers had not moved me then I could have done great things," which sounds selfish and doesn't seem to jive with the fact every time the Rangers made Young move positions it improved the team. I don't know if a team-first guy would make comments like this that don't sound incredibly team-first. Every time the Rangers asked Young to move it improved the team, so his comment that could be innocent could come off as a little selfish. Anyway, on to the Richard Justice column.

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.

Just read the comments on this column. Michael Young is adored. Obviously I feel like I'm an asshole if I bring up the essence of what happened when the Rangers asked Young to move to third base and then later requested he become a primary designated hitter.

Young announced his retirement on Thursday, saying simply that the time had come to get on with the next chapter of his life.

I imagine if Young's wife asks him to move the living room couch to another room in the house then Young will demand they purchase another house.

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.

Quit killing time. Let's get to the story about how unselfish Young is so I can be an asshole.

Between 2002 and '13, he averaged 155 games per season and never spent a day on the disabled list.

And Terence Moore says there are no iron men anymore.

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.

What a selfish immigrant. It's a good thing the border to Mexico is close to Texas because Soriano could just jump the fence back to Mexico if he doesn't like how things are run here in America.

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.

This was a team-first and unselfish move. I won't bash him for this.

To make that kind of switch would not be the easiest of adjustments.

Soriano had experience playing shortstop and Michael Young really didn't. This was the first of three position changes for Young and also the only position change he accepted without demanding a trade first. Of course, Richard Justice glosses over that in an effort to eulogize Young's career and make him seem like a completely team-first guy.

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.

Making the new guy's transition smoother and the Rangers better is something Young was resistant to the other two times he was asked to change positions. It's not bashing Young, but a simple recitation of a fact. Painting Young as this guy who is always team-first just isn't factually correct. Hell, Young is still reminiscing about his career if he didn't volunteer to play shortstop and had stayed at second base.

Here are some quotes from when Young was asked to move to third base to make room for Elvis Andrus, a move that would make the Rangers a better team:

"My focus is playing for the Rangers, playing for a winning club and playing the best third base that I can," Young said. "Yes, I was adamant about staying at shortstop. But at the end of the day, after looking at everything, the chances of being traded were slim and the team wasn't really pursuing a trade.

"They wanted me to play third base and I didn't want this to drag on. I don't want my focus to be on anything but being ready for Spring Training. I'm focused on having a big year and the last thing I wanted to do was have anything take away from that." 

Young agreed to move because his trade demand wasn't fulfilled or the Rangers weren't actively looking to trade him. Either way, he wants to be ready for the season (which is admirable), but he wanted to be traded rather than switch positions (which is a direct contradiction of Richard Justice's "Team-first" and "He wants the team to be better" point of view as it relates to Young) positions.

"This is the way it was going to turn out. There was no trade in sight so once I thought it over, it was time to get to work."

The decision ends four days of controversy that erupted on Sunday night when Daniels announced that the Rangers had requested Young to move to third base. Young publicly responded that he was being forced to move to third base and wanted to be traded instead. 

I give Young credit for playing rather than continuing to demand a trade, but the fact is Young only stopped demanding a trade because his wish to be trade wasn't being fulfilled, not out of the goodness of his heart.

Here are some quotes from when Young was asked to move to DH to make room for Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, a move that would make the Rangers a better team:

Then Texas signed Mike Napoli and announced he would also play as the Rangers designated hitter.

That was the last straw.

Michael Young asked for a trade.

“The suggestion that I had a change of heart and asked for a trade is a manipulation of the truth,” Young said. “I asked for a trade because I’ve been misled and manipulated and I’m sick of it.

Young ended up getting 631 at-bats during the 2011 season, while starting 69 games at DH, 39 games at third base, 36 games at first base, 14 games at second base, and 1 game at shortstop. So he was lied to, in that he wasn't being asked to be a DH for the majority of the games he started.

"This has been a long time coming based on things that occurred off the field,” Young said. “I’m sick of it. It hit a point where I felt it was unfair to me and my family.”

Did Young's $16 million paycheck bounce? It didn't? Well then I'm sure he would get over being lied to and manipulated.

I understand the Rangers asked Young to move positions three times in his career and it is perceived as unfair to him. Part of the reason it is perceived as so unfair is because he made such a big deal out of the last two times he was asked to switch positions. Other baseball players have switched positions and the position switch wasn't a huge deal because it wasn't made a huge deal. Young's trade demands had fans taking positions on whether what the Rangers were asking him to do was fair or not. Chipper Jones moved to left field to make room for Vinny Castilla. He didn't like it, but he didn't make a huge deal out of it to where he demanded a trade. Alex Rodriguez probably would rather have played shortstop with the Yankees, but he knew if he played for them then he would have to play third base. Even Alfonso Soriano eventually moved away from second base to play left field after being traded to the Nationals. It's not an issue unless it is made an issue.

While I respect Young, the idea he is team-first just isn't completely true. He was team-first the initial time he volunteered to move to shortstop, but after being asked to move positions again, he demanded a trade and wasn't team-first. It's possible for Young to be in the right to refuse to move, while also acknowledging this refusal to move doesn't mean he is a team-first player. These aren't mutually exclusive positions. Young was sort of jerked around by the Rangers, but by demanding a trade this meant he wasn't exactly being team-first because his moving positions made the Rangers a stronger team.

"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."

But this statement wasn't true for Young's entire career.

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.

See? I'm not bashing him. Young played the game the right way, with grit, hustle and a team-first attitude as long as being team-first fit his needs and wants. He was the face of the Rangers franchise and should be remembered that way. Attributes that Young possessed don't need to be fictionalized for him to have a rich legacy as a Texas Ranger.

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.

Of course, if Michael Young had his way then he would not have been on the team that won the first of two straight American League pennants nor on the team that won the second straight American League pennant. He would have been traded to a team that would allow him to play shortstop.

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.

And there we go. The gloss-over has occurred. To leave out two trade demands in an article where Richard Justice is putting Young out there as a team-first guy is simply bad writing. If it's not bad writing then it is a fictionalized version of real events. It's impossible for me to fathom how an article about Young being a team-first guy could be written while completely ignoring his two trade demands and the fact he wouldn't have been on the 2010 and 2011 Texas Rangers team if it weren't for the fact his demand request wasn't accepted and executed.

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.

Sorry, I"m choking on cliches and sentiment right now. Again, I think it's possible to remember Michael Young as a great baseball player who was jerked around by the Rangers in a way, while also acknowledging Young's trade demand wasn't team-first.

But he was there when they turned the corner,

Even though it was initially against his will.

and his fingerprints are all over everything they've accomplished.

Which was partially accomplished because of the players the Rangers acquired which caused Young to demand a trade twice.

In the end, that's a legacy with which he can take pride.

Young should absolutely take pride in his career. Richard Justice should not take pride in writing an article that whitewashes part of Michael Young's history with the Rangers. It's clear from Young's quote about playing second base for his whole career that he hasn't forgotten he was asked to move positions and anyone writing about Young being a team-first player shouldn't forget either.


franz said...

i won't comment on the baseball stuff since i don't know anything about baseball, but i feel there's a larger point with these kinds of articles. it's a lazy piece and it is bad writing. sportswriters need to stop with hero-worship based on intangible bullshit like hustle and team-first mentality. in fact, they should stop indulging their man-child fantasies altogether. every successful athlete has these qualities.
justice's point is michael young was a great team-first player? well, congratulations to michael young for realizing he participated in a team sport.

Bengoodfella said...

Franz, I do think you are right in part. A lot of players may not have switched positions like Young did (that's what happened) but a lot of other players would have also done so without demanding a trade twice.

Sportswriters like these fantasy articles because they are easy to write and makes them feel good about sucking up to an athlete.