My new favorite Michael Young story is one he told me Thursday night, one I do not think he had mentioned publicly before.
Earlier in the day, Young had revealed that he was retiring to spend more time with his family. And now, he was reminiscing, talking about playing through past injuries with the Texas Rangers.
Young, 37, averaged 155 games in the infield from 2002 to ‘13 and never went on the disabled list, but dealt with Achilles’ problems from ’07 until the end of his career.
"In 2008, my Achilles’ issues were kind of flaring up a little bit. I had broken two fingers," Young said over the phone from his home in University Park, Texas.
"I remember when I broke my second one at the end of July, I felt like I was just really starting to take off. (Reliever) Eddie Guardado was on the bench. I was playing catch before the game. He said, ‘What are you doing? I thought you broke your finger.’ I said, ‘The heck with that. I’m playing.’
"I told Wash (manager Ron Washington), ‘I’m going to gut this thing out the rest of the way.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Ain’t too many left, homie.’ "
Meaning, not many players left who would sacrifice in such a way for their team.
"To me, that was a great compliment," Young said. "The team came first. I knew my numbers were going to take a hit, that I would be extremely uncomfortable in those next two months. But this is the big leagues.
"There is more to be said about playing up here than just a stat sheet. You’ve got to post up and perform. That, to me, is what playing in the big leagues was all about. I loved it. I loved every last bit of it."
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Young still loves it, actually, and said that the defending NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers wanted him to return in a "pretty attractive" backup role. But the lure of family life was more powerful than his desire to continue playing. Young wanted to be home, home with his wife Cristina, home with his sons, Mateo, 8, Emilio, 4, and Antonio, 1½.
Former teammates such as the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus and Dodgers’ A.J. Ellis hailed him on Twitter. The Cleveland Indians’ Jason Kipnis tweeted that Young was "one of my absolute favorites to watch." The Washington Nationals’ Ian Desmond said, "Michael Young, when my kids ask me how to play the game, I’’m gonna tell ’em just like you." #pro #class #clubhouseHOF-er."
Young will formally announce his retirement Friday at Rangers Ballpark, his home park for 12 of his 13 seasons. He then will begin Tae Kwan Do classes on Monday, trying to "re-channel" the competitive spirit that helped make him a seven-time All-Star, the 2005 American League batting champion and 2008 Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
"Obviously, having three boys at home, I knew I had a ton of responsibility here with them," Young said. "I’ve always been a big believer that you can’t just say you’re a dad, you’ve got to walk the walk, too. You’ve got to be involved. You’ve got to get down in the dirt with them. That’s what I’m looking forward to in the next chapter."
Still, Young described the decision as "incredibly difficult," calling himself "the most competitive person I know."
He said he first considered retirement last season, sharing his thoughts with his family and agent. Once the offseason began, he wanted to monitor how his family was doing. And as time passed, he began to think, "Maybe this might be the way to go."
He said that he plans to get back into baseball at some point, but that he would want to keep flexible hours so that he could be with his sons.
Everything was in the name of team need. I get that. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
"I’m at peace with it, for sure," Young said of retirement. "I wanted my career to be a full sprint. I didn’t want to be, at the end of my career, hunting down numbers, bouncing from team to team, playing at less than my best. I didn’t want to limp to the finish line. I wanted to sprint all the way through."
Yet, Young acknowledged that he declined in his last two seasons, the wear and tear on his body mounting. He said that in addition to his Achilles’ problems, he dealt with issues in each of his shoulders in 2013 while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies and Dodgers. His combined .730 OPS actually was an improvement over ’12, when he produced a .682 OPS in his final year with the Rangers.
"In 2012, I felt my swing was in knots the whole year," Young said. "This year, I went through stretches where I felt great. Then I went through stretches where I felt like I was in pain.
"Earlier in my career, I could play through pain and still be extremely productive. This year, I felt like I was just playing in pain. Every time I went through a tough stretch, I felt like, ‘I know how to do this, I’ve done it before.’ But it got a little tougher to do. That’s the nature of playing the game in your mid-to-late 30s."
Young said he had no regrets, but allowed that he was "curious" about what might have happened if he had spent his entire career at his best defensive position, second base. The Rangers moved Young to shortstop in 2004 after trading Alex Rodriguez, then to third in ’09 to accommodate Elvis Andrus.
To grasp Young’s versatility, consider that he is the only player in the last 90 years to make 400 career starts at second, short and third, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
"I spent 13-14 years in the big leagues and played second base for three of them," Young said. "Everything was in the name of team need. I get that. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But my career kind of took a unique path in that sense.
"Most guys, if they excel at one spot, the team kind of says, ‘You stay.’ I knew I was excelling because I got asked to move to short. But no regrets. Because I moved, I got a chance to play with Sori (Alfonso Soriano) and Kins (Ian Kinsler) and Elvis (Andrus) and AB (Adrian Beltre). Those are guys I got an opportunity to play with just by switching positions. Obviously, I’m very thankful for that."
He is thankful for all of it. He was unique in so many ways.