Michael Young’s career was built on the fuel and incentive of proving people wrong.
As a teenager, he was cut from a travel baseball team and immediately wrote the coach a letter, suggesting that he had made a mistake but that he’d be back with a vengeance the following year.
After finishing his high school baseball career at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in La Puente, Calif., and before attending the University of California at Santa Barbara, Young received a call from a Seattle Mariners scout. The voice on the other end of the line asked Young if he would sign if drafted in the 40th round of the June MLB first-year player Draft. Mike already knew he would be attending college and told the scout just that.
“This guy told me that if I didn’t attend USC or UCLA, that I wouldn’t be drafted higher,” Mike expressed to me on Friday, a day after the 37-year-old, seven-time All-Star announced his retirement. “He told me that nobody from UCSB plays in the major leagues.”
Young landed in professional baseball as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization after being drafted in the fifth round and had a major prospect, Brett Abernathy slotted ahead of him at every level.
Young’s former advisor tried to encourage him.
“Abernathy’s not that much better than you, is he?” he asked Mike.
Mike didn’t appreciate this line of questioning.
“I thought I was the better player and if anybody should have agreed, it was my agent,” Mike said. “I thought to myself, you’re on the list now.”
Mike enjoyed the exercise of remembering those who doubted him.
In the seasons following that call, Mike developed a name for himself around baseball and began to gain notoriety as a player who could help an MLB team win.
Michael Young averaged 155 games in the infield from 2002 to ’13, never landing on the disabled list. He won a batting title and a Gold Glove, yet he was always willing to do what was best for the team, Ken Rosenthal says. Full story
In a deal that altered the course of Blue Jays history, Young was sent to the Rangers for Esteban Loaiza in July of 2000.
After spending the rest of that season with Double-A Tulsa and starting 2001 with Triple-A Oklahoma City, Young was called up to the Rangers in May and I came to know one of the best teammates in the sport. Mike was quiet, professional, inquisitive and hard working. Throughout the season, he smiled consistently regardless of performance and truly cared about the outcome of the game.
“I tried to approach my teammates, even if I had a bad game and congratulate them on their good game,” Mike said. “I felt like it didn’t take much effort on my part and it went a long way with them.”
Additionally, I noticed Mike’s absence of intimidation when interacting with teammates like Alex Rodriguez, Pudge Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro. Mike held his chin up with pride as a rookie the same way he does now, never looking uncomfortable in the presence of theses huge stars and displaying equal admiration for men like Rusty Greer and Frank Catalanotto.
Catalanotto, who played 14 seasons in the majors, was with us through those early years in Texas and gave me his thoughts on Mike on Friday.
“Mike was an outstanding teammate because he genuinely cared about each player on the team,” Catalanotto said. “He is totally unselfish and always put team first. When my confidence was low, I always knew where to go. He always had the words to get me back on track.”
I could tell watching Mike during the second half of that 2001 season that he was a good hitter. It’s always difficult to predict the success at the plate that he produced from 2004-‘12, slashing his way to a higher batting average during that nine-year stretch than Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds and Josh Hamilton.
Such is the challenge of projecting young players. But it was evident that Mike had strong bat to ball skills and would continue to put the rock in play with authority.
When then-Rangers GM Doug Melvin, who traded for Mike, was fired after the 2001 season and John Hart stepped in as GM, the energy in Texas shifted. Hart understandably wanted to make changes and one of his initial difficult decisions was how to approach Young’s future.
Would he be an everyday player or a splendid option as a utility guy? Hart and his staff believed the latter and expressed as much to Mike. Additionally, then-Texas scouting director Grady Fuson publicly illuminated his lean that Mike profiled as a bench player.
“This was bulletin board material for me. Those are people that I wanted in my corner that I didn’t feel were there,” Mike said.
Young fully comprehends the business of baseball. Scouting is as difficult a job as there is in the sport. He never took the lack of faith personally, and gets along with Hart. Young has a tremendous amount of respect for everyone who dons the hat of baseball man, he simply knows how to find his motivation.
“I wanted people to say bad stuff about me when I was young,” Mike said. “The Rangers weren’t sold that I could be an offensive second baseman. Good fuel for me.”
You see, Young played his game with the burning desire to show people what he was capable of. He told me he never wavered on his belief in himself and his ability to be extraordinary. Mike created a remarkably simple mantra for himself in Triple-A to remind himself throughout his career of how confident he truly was in his heart.
“I trust myself”, he whispered as he strolled to the plate.
That trust, along with the fire he found in his doubters was a gift to his teammates, and baseball fans everywhere.