THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 2, 2007

If Tom Hicks or Jon Daniels or Ron Washington tell you they think the Texas Rangers are poised to win, part of that is because they’re in charge of seeing that through. It doesn’t mean you should disregard what they say, but then again no owner or GM or manager doesn’t think his team can win.

If I tell you the same thing, you have to understand that I’m a homer, which doesn’t mean I blindly endorse every decision this organization makes or that I see a silver lining in games lost — but filter what I say through the recognition that I tend to see the glass three-fifths full and will support this club, passionately, as long as I live.

But this is different. Michael Young has just told you that he thinks the Texas Rangers will win. This contract, barring career-changing injury, is one he could have gotten from any team in baseball in a year and nine months. He gets an extension of five years and $80 million that will kick in after the 2008 season, meaning he will be under contract for the next seven years for $88.5 million. A significant chunk of the money is deferred, however, and the result is an AAV between $11.5 million and $12 million.

The list of teams that wouldn’t get in on Young as a free agent is very short. He’d basically be able to choose where he wanted to play, where he intended to hang his shingle and add a championship or more to his legacy.

He’s made that choice. He’s hitchin’ onto your team, his team, for the long haul.

Why? Why would Young make this decision now? Wouldn’t he be better off waiting a year, to see what direction things take in Texas?

Probably so.

And that’s why there’s almost no other way to interpret what has just happened: Young believes Texas can win. He’s “100 percent convinced” that Texas will win, and soon. His words, not mine.

Young said last week, “Winning is the only option. Talent-wise, we are ready. All we need to do is stay healthy and have the young guys really step up.”

“Winning is the only option.” It’s a Michael Young mantra that applies just as much to every game as it does to every season, and make no mistake: it also applies to the way in which he views his career and defines his baseball goals, and deciding now, at age 30, that he wants to be a Texas Ranger for the next seven years is a message to you and to me and to management and to everyone else wearing a Rangers uniform. Winning is the only option.

And this: “We’ve been through some rough times, but I think we’re due to turn it around. And I want to be a part of it.”

He knows he will be more than “a part of it” when Texas wins. Team comes first for Young, and the responsibility is shared. But even if he’ll never say it, he understands that he has the ability to set a tone in the clubhouse, now more so than ever. Nobody carries more weight with what he says and does in a Rangers uniform, and now nobody in the organization is locked in to be here longer than he is.

Michael Young is Roger Staubach. A substantial part of his greatness is that unique combination of humility and absolute confidence, and the sense that everything he says is genuine, selfless, reliable. If he were in Boston, he’d be praised every bit as much as David Ortiz is as being the consummate teammate. If he were a Yankee, he’d be the national media’s poster child for playing the game right. As a Texas Ranger, he’s still a bit of a local treasure despite the growth his national reputation enjoys each year.

But that’s the thing about Michael Young. He’s as happy to be thought of in those ways even if baseball fans in Philadelphia or Seattle aren’t aware of it; it’s enough that he’s earned the utmost respect of his peers in the game as a ballplayer’s ballplayer, on the field and in the room. He’s not in this game for the limelight or the personal awards. He’s in it to compete, and to come out on top, whether it’s a 1-2 slider on the outer half or the race to win the AL West.

We all know that Young, year by year, finds himself in increasingly singular company as he extends his run of 200-hit seasons. But he exemplifies that achievement’s clubhouse equivalent as well. Young doesn’t change, but each year he finds himself on more and more lists of the singular people in the game.

Let me pose the question one more time: Why?

Why is Michael Young choosing to stay? If the answer is that he believes Texas can win, why is that? What is it about this club, which has yet to finish higher than third in the West in his seven seasons here, that makes him think it’s poised to win over the next seven?

In a recent interview for Athlon Sports, Young had this to say about his new manager: “He brings out the enthusiasm in everybody. I’m going to try and run through walls for him. I may not make it, but I’m going to try.”

Now, admittedly, that’s the approach that Young has always taken, no matter whether his manager was Johnny Oates or Jerry Narron or Buck Showalter. But he’s been extremely vocal about the positive change that Ron Washington has brought about. Everyone believes in Washington. But Young may be his most important proponent.

It’s interesting. The two most important things Daniels had done this winter were to add Washington — who embodies positive energy and magnetism, honesty and commitment, and the power and importance of expectations — and to continue to develop a starting rotation — locking in the type of stability and continuity that hasn’t been around in Texas for years. Those two moves have now been punctuated by the deal with Young, who himself exemplifies every one of those same traits.

There’s a message sent by Hicks and Daniels by virtue of this move, not only to Young’s teammates but perhaps around the league as well. A team with Young on it for what amounts to the duration of any potential free agent’s marketability can only help draw players to Texas. Between Young, Kevin Millwood, and Ron Washington, there are some lures here.

Young receives a full no-trade clause through 2009, and a limited no-trade (which will permit him to designate eight teams to which he’d accept a trade) that will cover the 2010 season and the first two months of the 2011 season — after which he’ll have a vested right to veto any trade by virtue of the collectively bargained 10-5 rights.

Will the man who follows Young in the lineup follow him in locking up in Texas long-term? Certainly not now. It wouldn’t make sense for Mark Teixeira to use his 2006 season as a springboard for long-term contract talks — it’s almost a lock that he’ll have a more productive 2007 season, more in line with the second half he had last year. Add the Scott Boras factor, and it stands to reason even more that talks with Teixeira, who has two more seasons before he can become a free agent, are probably at least a year away.

But if the issue is whether Young’s decision to be here long-term makes it more likely that Teixeira will want the same thing, of course it does. We just don’t know how much. A contending season in 2007 will help, too.

Young has given my kids Erica and Max great moments, both on television and in person, and this is another gift to them. Erica was too young and Max wasn’t yet born when Ivan Rodriguez was allowed to leave, but I know from talking to so many of you four years ago how much it affected your kids for Pudge to continue his career in a different uniform. I don’t know how I was going to explain it to my children if Michael Young were to step into the batters’ box at Ameriquest Field wearing Red Sox or Angels gray rather than the home whites, and I’m thrilled that I won’t have to do that. He’s not only the face of the franchise, a marketing concession that the club has referred to more than once in the past week, but also its heart and soul, a more important distinction as far as I’m concerned.

Young knows so many of us pour our hearts into the fortunes of this franchise, and you can bet there’s nothing contrived when he says: “This team is about an inch away from taking off. We’ve got great players and we’ve got great fans, and we all know how excited they’re going to be when we really start winning. I think that time is coming.”

If there’s a better role model in sports, I haven’t seen him. Maybe it’s overly Norman Rockwell of me, but I’m convinced that having Michael Young around, in some small way, is going to make my two young baseball fans better people.

He’s also going to make the Rangers a better baseball team than they’d be without him, and the confidence in the team — his team — that he has demonstrated by virtue of this commitment is enough to build mine in it as well.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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