Commentary

Treatment of Michael Young is a crime

Rangers' underappreciation of team player through the years develops into standoff

Updated: February 8, 2011, 8:03 AM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

If this had been the first chapter of a "Whodunit?" the ending would already be ruined for us. We'd already know who the "killer" was long before we reached the end of the book.

In the curiously sad and bloody case of the Texas Rangers and Michael Young, however, we'd also know it was "death by committee." It was a conspiracy to commit "murder" on the local career of a player whose only crime was in giving his heart and soul to an organization he loved with every fiber of his being.

So here's my list of those culpable in this heinous crime:

John Hart did it.

And Jon Daniels.

And Nolan Ryan.

Tom Hicks did it, and so did Chuck Greenberg. An aggressive prosecutor probably would also indict Buck Showalter as an accessory to the crime.

[+] EnlargeJohn Hart
AP Photo/LM OteroFormer GM John Hart began a trend by being the first of the Rangers' front-office types to undervalue Michael Young.
Each and every one of them is guilty of bringing the Rangers' de facto team captain to this sorry juncture in his stellar career.

No, they didn't mean for it to come to this. Sure, their intentions were pure in the sense that they were almost always trying to do what they thought was best for the team, which is what they are paid to do. But ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law and baseball fans. Good intentions don't mean squat when they ultimately drive a good man and a great employee to the point of asking to be traded.

Hart was the first to underappreciate Young, and that was before he even knew him. When the former Cleveland GM arrived in Arlington in 2002, insiders say, he didn't think all that much of Young. That would change over time, but when the Rangers traded Alex Rodriguez for Alfonso Soriano, Hart and Showalter asked Young to move to shortstop to accommodate the defensively challenged Soriano.

Soriano ultimately would be moved to the outfield a few years later in Washington, but the Rangers didn't have the guts to ask him to do that. No, it was easier to wait for the team-minded Young to voluntarily change positions.

Feeling guilty and humbled by Young's gracious acceptance, the Rangers then would overpay him by signing him to a lucrative contract extension. Now they're squirming because they're stuck with a $16 million a year player who is not a great middle-of-the-order hitter or defender.

Daniels, Ryan and Hicks all are culpable because of the poorly handled shift of Young to third two years ago to make room for rookie Elvis Andrus at short. Those wounds still crack open and bleed from time to time.

Greenberg gets tossed into the same pot because of the latest moves that have brought us to this distasteful impasse, including the signing of third baseman Adrian Beltre and the trade for first baseman/catcher/DH Mike Napoli, and because he sits at one of those desks where the buck eventually comes to rest.

A good defense attorney, of course, would argue that Young agreed to become the Rangers' DH in 2011 and said he would, once again, take one for the team. What's a club supposed to do, he might plead to the jury, but take him at his word?

[+] EnlargeMichael Young
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe new regime's acquisitions of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli have served as a kiss of death to Michael Young's Rangers tenure.
But that was before the Napoli trade, which threatens some of Young's at-bats at DH and first base. That was before his name began to constantly show up in trade rumors, and before Young's immense pride and common sense kicked in, and he looked three years down the road, when his current contract runs out, and realized that being labeled strictly a DH would not help his bargaining power.

He has every right to be unhappy about this third affront to his dignity. Over the years, the Rangers have given plenty of lip service to how much they appreciate Young, but as usual, actions speak much louder than words.

Once upon a time, Young was a better-than-average second baseman. He won a Gold Glove at short, which was probably more a statement about the esteem in which he is held throughout the American League than about his actual ability at the position. He was not a particularly good defender at third, but it's not his fault that's where the Rangers put him.

It's clear now that Michael Young has reached the end of his rope and his patience with the Rangers. If they haven't shoved him out the door, they've at least swung it wide open and planted a foot firmly on his rear end. So go ahead; make Michael's day.

Do what he's asked. Pay him the respect of doing this one last favor, not because it's what's best for the team -- I simply don't believe that's true -- but because he deserves the chance to see whether he can find an organization that will fully appreciate him for what he brings to a team, on the field and off. The Rangers, sadly, have never been that organization.

Even with the nice, fat contract, they've never really committed themselves to Young. They've always had one eye out for something better.

This is one of those things the Rangers, historically, have never done well. They've never just come right out and said, "This guy is ours, from beginning to end. We're here for him because he's always been here for us." There's never quite been that mutual love and respect that goes into a "forever" relationship.

It didn't happen with Jim Sundberg. It didn't happen with Ivan Rodriguez. It doesn't happen much, period, and it seemingly never happens with the Rangers. I'd hoped that might change under the new regime, but maybe that's what baseball is now. Team owners and executives have to forget about the personal stuff and concentrate solely on the numbers, financial and otherwise.

Every now and then, you would think there might be an exception to that cold, hard reality. But I guess not.

Will the 2011 Rangers be better off without Young?

No, and hell no.

Is that strong enough for you?

OK, maybe I have it all wrong. It's possible. I've been wrong before. Maybe I vastly overrate Young's value as an iconic clubhouse leader and example as a team player. Maybe he's not the perfect team player I think he is. Maybe, like so many "seamheads" out there, we should simply rate him by the numbers and forget about what he brings to clubhouse chemistry.

For the Rangers' sake, I almost hope so. Because otherwise, when they finally pull the trigger on some deal, it's going to leave a gaping hole in the psyche of this clubhouse that will be felt for years to come.

Unfortunately, we already know how this is going to end and we know whom the guilty parties are.

Go ahead, Rangers; do what you have to do.

Make Michael's day.

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

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