Commentary

Young's success story worth emulating

Through hard work, Rangers 3B earns admiration around league as hits pile up

Updated: June 15, 2010, 12:35 PM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

Michael YoungRay Carlin/Icon SMIMichael Young is well on his way to a seventh .300 season in 10 years with the Rangers.

In Chicago, where Rudy Jaramillo toils on the north side now as hitting coach for the National League's Cubs, the one thing he hears most often from his young hitters is this:

"I want to be like Michael Young."

Jaramillo's answer is short and sweet.

"OK. Get ready to go to work."

Young is on the cusp of becoming the Texas Rangers' all-time hits leader -- his next hit will tie him for the all-time lead with 1,747 in a Texas uniform -- and he is a self-made man.

He's not the most talented Rangers hitter ever; that was probably Juan Gonzalez. He's not the flashiest Rangers hitter ever. That might have been Al Oliver or Rafael Palmeiro.

But Young might be the steadiest. Nobody outworks Michael Young.

"He just gets great respect throughout baseball," Jaramillo said Monday from Chicago. "I think it's because if you're around him, you know he's so humble.

"He never talks about himself. He plays hurt. He plays when others wouldn't play. His peers see that and talk about it. Other managers think the world of him."

That respect is virtually universal. I can still remember some years ago when then-Angels pitcher Jarrod Washburn said the player he admires most in baseball is Michael Young.

Some of that has to do with Young's unselfishness, of course. In the spring of 2005, after he'd just played in his first All-Star Game and finished eighth in the MVP voting as a second baseman, Young volunteered to move to shortstop to accommodate new Rangers acquisition Alfonso Soriano at second.

Two years ago, after winning a Gold Glove at short, Young moved to third to make way for rookie Elvis Andrus, though Michael was not happy with the way things were handled by the Texas front office and even asked general manager Jon Daniels to explore the possibility of a trade.

Thankfully for the Rangers, that didn't happen.

Young's willingness to play with injuries and sacrifice himself for the team, his work ethic, and his drive and determination long ago made him the Rangers' de facto team captain. Now it's time the Rangers made it official.

Why they didn't put a C on the sleeve of Young's jersey years ago is a mystery to me, but it's a situation that's easily remedied. It's not an honor Young has ever campaigned for or sought, mostly because he doesn't need official recognition to do the job he already does anyway.

There aren't many team captains in baseball today. But I'll always remember the respect I heard in former Dodger Bobby Bragan's voice when he talked about "The Captain" of the Dodgers back in the day. That was Pee Wee Reese, and I see the same kind of attributes in Michael Young that Bragan recognized in Reese.

Like Reese, Young is not the most gifted player even on his own team today. But no one has earned more respect, and the fact that he is about to become the team's all-time hits leader shines a spotlight on a player who shuns it more often than not.

"It's something that's really a neat story, especially when he's about to become the all-time hits leader when he wasn't homegrown," Jaramillo pointed out.

As always, Rudy's right. Seven of the 10 players at the top of the Rangers' all-time hits list were drafted and developed by the organization. Only Young, Palmeiro and Buddy Bell came from outside the Rangers.

When the Rangers traded Esteban Loaiza to Toronto for Young and pitcher Darwin Cubillan on July 19, 2000, it was more about subtraction than addition. Manager Johnny Oates had had his fill of the difficult Loaiza. That then-general manager Doug Melvin was able to pick up Young in what was more of a dump job than a real trade was something of a steal. It's just that no one knew it at the time.

Even though Young hit .319 the rest of that season at Tulsa and .291 in 47 games at Oklahoma City in 2001, he was still learning about himself and about hitting when he arrived to work with Jaramillo in 2001.

"He learned how to be a hitter," Jaramillo said. "It was tough at first. He overcame all the things you have to overcome at the big league level, making adjustments, mental toughness. He developed his swing, his discipline.

"His skills were there, but he had to learn how to control his mental approach and learn his swing. He worked at it real hard. The ability was there, but becoming a good hitter, physically and mentally, was a learning process for him."

From 2003 to 2007, Young had five straight 200-plus hit seasons. If fans didn't know who he was, they were learning. In 2006, he was the All-Star Game MVP, driving in the game-winning run for the American League.

"One of his greatest assets is his hand-eye coordination," Jaramillo said. "In that respect, he reminds me of [Hall of Famer] Paul Molitor, because both are 'handsy' hitters."

He has been selected to the All-Star Game as a second baseman, shortstop and third baseman.

He plays the game right, treating it with respect and appreciation. And he's about to become the hitting-est Ranger in franchise history.

No wonder there's a long line of players who simply want to "be like Mike."

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

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