Michael Young, gone.
From 1976 through 1981, the Yankees went to the playoffs five years out of six, reaching the World Series four times and winning three of them.
From 1996 through this season, New York reached the post-season 16 times out of 17, getting to the World Series seven times, winning five.
In between those two stretches of basically unparalleled baseball dominance were the years 1982 through 1995, a 14-year stretch during which the Yankees went to the playoffs only one time – and even then it was as a Wild Card – and they were knocked out in the first round.
That particular run of Yankees baseball, from 1982 through 1995, was also Don Mattingly’s big league baseball career.
From 1978 until 1992, Paul Molitor was putting together a Hall of Fame career as a Milwaukee Brewer. His club earned playoff berths in the strike-shortened 1981 season and again in 1982, his age 24 and age 25 seasons, reaching the World Series in the second of those years but losing to St. Louis. And that was it. In his 15 years in Milwaukee, Molitor never won a title.
He left after the 1992 season, amid a conflict with management, and at age 36 he joined Toronto.
In his first year with the Blue Jays, Molitor was runner-up in the AL MVP race and won that first title – and a World Series MVP Award.
Mattingly never got that chance. A bad back and wrist, knee, and elbow problems ended the brilliant career of a player as beloved as anyone in his generation.
In fact, there are probably more players today who count Don Mattingly as their childhood baseball idol as anyone else. He wasn’t particularly toolsy, and maybe that was part of the allure, a sense in every 10-year-old kid that he just might be able get to the big leagues like that slow, unimposing, 6’0”, 175-pound 19th-round pick who looked perfect in pinstripes as he perennially challenged for MVP hardware.
One of those who idolized Mattingly growing up was Michael Young, who for many years seemed to be on a Mattingly path of leading his teammates in a way that wasn’t meant for the cameras and retiring in the same uniform he wore when he reached the big leagues, and who – for all his strengths and his weaknesses and all the off-the-field drama of the last few years – may be as respected by his peers as any player in the game today, much as Mattingly was a generation ago.
Suddenly Young is no longer in that Don Mattingly category, no longer the Ripken or Brett or Biggio or Trammell or Gwynn who stayed with one team an entire career, not the Robin Yount who was a Brewer for life while his co-star Molitor moved on.
Molitor, whose career has been a pattern for Young’s. The singles-doubles approach, the use of the whole field. The move from second and short, and then to third, and then to DH and first base. The businesslike style, the preparation, the raves from teammates.
And, now, the change in uniforms, at the same age of 36.
I can’t yet imagine seeing Michael Young in Philadelphia pinstripes, but then again I don’t remember Emmitt Smith or Mike Modano in red, and until just looking it up I’d forgotten that Troy Aikman was released by the Cowboys even though he wanted to keep playing.
I’m not sure whether Young’s career ends with this five-year contract, the final year of which Texas will pay a larger portion of than Philadelphia, although I doubt he has another six seasons in him like Molitor did.
Whether 2012 – a bad year for Young, the worst of his career at the plate and with the glove – was a glimpse of the end or instead just a lousy year that he’ll bounce back from in a new environment, we’ll all keep tabs.
Part of what’s so frustrating about seeing a veteran like that struggle is the Mattingly effect. This wasn’t Nolan Ryan losing something off his fastball, or Juan Gonzalez no longer punishing baseballs the way he used to, or Rusty Greer no longer being able to throw. Young’s physical tools, at least the easily recognized ones, haven’t changed much. The one plus tool he’s always had is the arm strength, and that’s still there. But some of the more subtle things, like the bat speed and the first-step reactions defensively, started to regress in 2012, like they always do at some point when players in their 20’s become players in their mid-30’s.
And maybe those things were more frustrating to watch because Young was never one of those players with off-the-charts power or speed or a tight end’s physique to begin with. He was more like us, and it’s not a comfortable thing to see someone we like to think of as somehow like us to start to slow down.
For lots of Rangers fans, Michael Young is our Don Mattingly.
For years I’ve gotten lots of emails from lots of you about Young. There are two distinct camps.
There are those who feel like the Rangers just traded Roger Staubach.
The others are those who saw yesterday’s events as Texas finally moving on from Bill Bates, or Brad Davis.
But even the latter group would probably admit that things might have gone better for Young, and for the Rangers, had Ron Washington not played him 156 times this season – and three of the six games he didn’t appear in took place while he was away from the team on paternity leave.
This is no exaggeration: Those three games Young missed in August for the birth of his and Cristina’s third son were the only games he didn’t play in over the Rangers’ final 100 regular-season games. And only twice in those 100 games did he enter the game off the bench.
He hit fifth and sixth in the order far more than anywhere else, despite a career-low .682 OPS and by far the worst sabermetric season of his career and one of the worst of any regular in baseball in 2012.
But the fact that he hit in the lineup where he did despite those numbers, and as often as he did, those things are on the manager. We all wonder whether Texas would have been forced into a one-and-done Wild Card Game corner if Washington hadn’t ridden his veterans so hard down the stretch, especially having young players with upside at his disposal, and Young (even though his best month was the final one, when he hit .313/.360/.478 as his teammates withered around him) was the poster child for the skipper’s stubborn refusal to rest his regulars.
He’ll get more rest in Philadelphia, where there’s no DH, and he’s bound to have some degree of a bounceback year offensively, probably not at the level of his .338/.380/.474 2011 but also not as unproductive as 2012’s .277/.312/.370. A consistent, familiar role won’t hurt.
He won’t be in completely unfamiliar surroundings. Young shares an agent with his friend Jimmy Rollins. He shared a World Series run with Cliff Lee. He was once in the Blue Jays system with Roy Halladay, was briefly teammates with Laynce Nix (and John Mayberry Jr., but not really), and could be reunited with Mike Adams soon if the rumors on the veteran reliever pan out.
And he’ll be there all year. He insisted that the Phillies grant him a no-trade clause (his 10/5 no-trade rights vanished with the trade, because even though he’s amassed the 10 years of service time, the “5” part of the equation requires five straight seasons with one’s current club), and also reportedly refused to extend his contract beyond 2013.
That means, of course, he wants to control where he plays for all of 2013, and where he plays after that.
It won’t be shocking to see him in Los Angeles in 2014, should he choose to keep playing.
But we’re talking about 2013. The trade not only gives Texas an extra $6 million to play ball with this winter. It also frees up 600 at-bats that can be split among Jurickson Profar, if he’s given the shot to win the second base job, and others. The extra payroll flexibility could help bring in a new bat that factors into the equation.
This opens things up on several levels, for Texas and for Young.
What happened yesterday wasn’t life and death, like yesterday’s news from the local football team. But it’s also not fantasy baseball, and the decision on whether or not to accept a trade when you’ve procedurally earned the right to control that decision involves more than just playing time and loyalty to teammates and doing what’s “right.” It involves family and other matters that don’t show up on a baseball card or in a WAR calculation.
(And if you’re like the one emailer who insisted that Young’s deliberation over several days cost the Rangers the chance to keep Zack Greinke from signing with the Dodgers, forget it. Greinke took the money, and if the Rangers had offered more than they did, the Dodgers would have simply increased their offer accordingly.)
(Meanwhile, the Angels will go to camp having traded three of their top five prospects from an already thin farm system for Greinke, failed to make the playoffs with him, and now lose him to their cross-market rivals without any draft pick compensation to show for it. That club’s fans have a bigger Greinke gripe.)
I tried to pin down Young’s signature moment here, and it’s not easy. That’s not a knock. His hallmark was steadiness. The will to win and refusal to accept whatever else there was. A stubbornness that rubbed off in all kinds of good ways on his teammates, even as it cropped up a time or two when something different might have been called for.
He’s on top of so many all-time statistical categories for this franchise because, using a Buck Showalter term, he posted up. He always went into a season claiming his goal was to be out there every day. Young always met the goal.
He played hurt. He set a tone of accountability in the room. He fought. (Including in more than one off-season, not his finest moment nor the front office’s, which I think both might admit.) He always fought, and still will.
And here’s the thing. It was possible to be fans of both Michael Young and the front office, even as the tension and drama between the two mounted, because both, in their own way, and according to their own very different job descriptions and accountabilities, have always been relentlessly determined to win. That got in the way of good feelings between the two, made the tension even more tense (especially once it spilled out onto the public record), and that was no fun. We didn’t have to pick sides, but it was a real drag at those times when it felt like we had to.
That’s over now, too.
Ian Kinsler and David Murphy will take every chance they get to tell everybody the kind of impact that Young’s approach had on them and everyone else in uniform here. So will Derek Holland and former Ranger Tommy Hunter, who have nothing in common with Young in just about every category but who will tell you stories about how a simple Michael Young gesture drove something home that changed more than just one start on the mound.
I can’t fully get my head wrapped around how much of an influence Young has had on Elvis Andrus, and I’d like to think that the kid who moved Young off of shortstop four years ago is now the man ready to settle in as the glue guy behind whom a contender charges out of the dugout every night and onto the field.
I’d been a father for a month when Doug Melvin traded the mercurial Esteban Loaiza for Toronto’s third- or fourth-best minor league middle infielder (depends on which Brent Abernathy camp you fell in) and a 27-year-old bullpen flier named Darwin Cubillan. And now our daughter is in Junior High.
It’s just not the time to talk about Josh Lindblom or Lisalverto Bonilla, which I’ll get around to eventually. Not yet.
Roger Staubach played in Dallas for 11 years, Aikman for 12.
Mattingly was a Yankee for 14 seasons, Molitor a Brewer for 15.
Michael Young played 13 years as a Texas Ranger. And that’s where that number ends.
The sting of losing Mike Napoli was different, closer to what it felt like to lose Lee.
Losing out on Zack Greinke is different, obviously.
This loss, the end of an era in a way, is a sadness. A sadness because the Rangers team that grew up with Young as its rock didn’t win it all, more narrowly so than it’s possible to imagine. A sadness also because the manner in which the manager was bent on using him, with no indication that that was going to change, is partly what led to this.
It was the right baseball move, for the Rangers and for the Phillies and for Young. It’s bittersweet, no doubt, but players move on in this game exponentially far more often than they don’t, and we’ll move on, too.
There have been more than a couple times in the last four years that I thought I’d have to write this report. Even a couple days ago, I didn’t want to piece it together in my head in advance. I didn’t know exactly how I’d react when something real happened, and I wanted to wait on that before deciding how to write about it.
When I saw a fake tweet a couple days ago suggesting that Young had killed the trade, before I realized less than a minute later that it was in fact from a fake account, I knew.
This trade had to happen. For everyone involved.
While driving yesterday, the 35-year-old image occurred to me of Obi-Wan Kenobi shutting down the tractor beam, and then powering down his light saber (he’d lost a little bat speed himself), choosing to move on as he allowed the others to do the same, and I’m gonna get out of this awful analogy before someone gets hurt.
Players here might have a better chance to win now, not just because the manager will be given a roster from which his lineup will necessarily get younger and more energetic, but also because Young helped teach Kins and Elvis and Holland how to win, and Mitch Moreland and Robbie Ross and Profar, too, and a segment of those guys how to lead a clubhouse without forcing it.
Texas has lost a rock. Michael Young is a ballplayer.
The decision had to be more difficult than many of us can appreciate. It was a lot larger than just a baseball decision.
Whether or not it was a factor, and we’re all pretty sure it had to be, maybe Young has given himself a better opportunity to contribute full-time to a World Series win, something Don Mattingly didn’t get the chance to do, but Paul Molitor did.
And in the process not only helps his new team get back and win one, but maybe his old team, too.