Young leaves behind a lasting legacy in Texas

By T.R. Sullivan / 12/09/12 10:39 AM ET

ARLINGTON -- There was a time during Buck Showalter's regime as manager of the Rangers when infielder Michael Young had to leave Spring Training for a couple of days to deal with some personal business.
It was still early in Spring Training and the Cactus League had not even started yet. But during Young's brief absence, Showalter made an observation while watching his team taking batting practice in the desert sun.
"I miss it when Michael's not here," Showalter said. "I miss having his professionalism around."
The Rangers must brace for Young's absence for more than a couple of days. After 13 seasons in the Rangers organization, Young has been traded to the Phillies for two pitchers. Gone is one of the most popular and well-respected players in the history of the franchise. He had a tremendous impact on the field, in the clubhouse and in the community.
Young was never officially elected team captain, but he was certainly that and more as far as being a leader for the Rangers when they went to two straight World Series in 2010-11.
"Mike's kind of the -- he's the glue that holds everybody together," outfielder David Murphy said Friday on Sirius XM. "He's a great player regardless of what type of year that he had last year. I think every player is allowed an off year here or there regardless of whether you are a superstar or whether you're an average player.
"Mike's definitely been in that superstar/All-Star status for a long time and didn't live up to his own standards last year. But he's just a guy [who] creates a great atmosphere in our clubhouse regardless of whether you are a rookie, whether you've been around a long time, whether you're a player that has just signed as a free agent or traded for."
Young played in 1,823 games for the Rangers, the most in club history. He is also the Rangers' all-time leader in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He was selected to seven All-Star teams, second only to Ivan Rodriguez in club history. He was named the Rangers Player of the Year five times, tying him with Juan Gonzalez for the most in club history.
Young began his professional career as a fifth-round Draft pick with the Blue Jays in 1997 out of the University of California-Santa Barbara. He spent three years in the Toronto organization and might have stayed with the Blue Jays for much longer if not for pitcher Esteban Loaiza.
Loaiza was a member of the Rangers' starting rotation in 2000 but had pushed manager Johnny Oates to the brink of frustration. Oates had grown weary of Loaiza, who was constantly showing up late and had missed the team charter from Arizona to San Francisco without contacting the team. Oates finally told general manager Doug Melvin that it was either him or Loaiza, but one of them had to go.
On July 19, 2000, the Rangers sent Loaiza to the Blue Jays for pitcher Darwin Cubillan and a 23-year-old infielder from a blue-collar neighborhood of Los Angeles who was hitting .275 at Double-A.
Young was called up to the Major Leagues only on the final weekend of the 2000 season. The Rangers had been clobbered by injuries and they needed a body to finish out the year. Young's debut came on Sept. 29 against the Athletics when he pinch-ran for Pedro Valdes with two outs in the ninth inning of a 7-5 loss. The next day, he came into the game in the middle of a 23-2 loss to the Athletics and was 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
Young began the next season at Triple-A Oklahoma but was called up on May 25 after second baseman Randy Velarde suffered a pulled hamstring muscle. Young has been in the Rangers lineup ever since. Only Ichiro Suzuki has played in more Major League games since the beginning of the 2002 season than Young.
Young hit .262 in 156 games as the Rangers starting second baseman in 2002. There was some sentiment within the organization that Frank Catalanotto should have been the Rangers' starting second baseman because Catalanotto was considered the better offensive player. But manager Jerry Narron stood behind Young the entire season and he remained the Rangers' starting second baseman.
In 2003, Young finished with a .306 batting average and 204 hits. It would be the first of seven seasons during which he hit at least .300, and the first of six with at least 200 hits.
In 2004, the Rangers traded shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for second baseman Alfonso Soriano right before Spring Training. The Rangers weren't sure who would play shortstop, although Soriano made it clear he wanted to stay at second. Young defused the situation immediately by walking into Showalter's office and telling the manager he would switch to shortstop.
Young ended up making the All-Star team for the first time. One year later, he won the American League batting title with a .331 average. In 2006, he was the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game when he hit a game-winning two-run triple off of Trevor Hoffman in the top of the ninth inning in Pittsburgh. He also had the game-winning RBI with a sacrifice fly in the 15th inning at the '08 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
Young, after initially balking at the move, switched to third base in 2009 to make room for shortstop Elvis Andrus. Young ended up in the All-Star Game starting lineup for the first time in his career.
However, Young's biggest dream finally came true in 2010, when the Rangers made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and reached the World Series for the first time in club history. Young's three-run home run was the big blow in Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Rays, and he hit .333 against the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
The Rangers then signed free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre in the offseason, leaving Young as the club's designated hitter and utility infielder. Young ended up asking to be traded, but the Rangers weren't able to accommodate him. The situation wasn't resolved until Spring Training, but Young finally accepted his role, hit a career high .338 during the season and led the Rangers to a second straight trip to the World Series.
By that point, Young had established himself as the Rangers' unofficial team captain and undisputed leader in the clubhouse. His respect around the league is also evident, as Young has twice been selected by his peers as the winner of the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. He has also been nominated three times for the Roberto Clemente Award. Former White Sox and Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen called Young, "my favorite player."
Offensively Young slipped to .277 with eight home runs and 67 RBIs in 2012, while his .682 OPS was the lowest of his career. He also turned 36 after the season was over and the Rangers had lost to the Orioles in the Wild Card playoff game.
Young is getting ready to enter into the final season of a five-year, $80 million contract that was signed in 2007. Even if the Rangers had not traded him this winter, Young's time in Texas was coming to the end.
Those who focus on Young's declining numbers will see that as a good thing. Those who think the intangible benefits of professionalism and leadership mean something will view it in a different light. The statistical analysis that has become increasingly prevalent in baseball says one thing. Those who know Young say something else.
"He was our leader," pitcher Derek Holland said.