Michael Brian Young was born on October 19, 1976 in Covina, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His mom Anna called him B as a boy (from his middle name), and his dad Fred called him Mikey. Michael’s parents were both U.S.-born, but his mother’s family was from Mexico. English was spoken in the Young home, although Michael picked up Spanish over the years. Today, he can converse with his Latino teammates in the majors.
Baseball was Michael’s favorite sport as a child. From the age of four, he planned to become a pro player. The talent was there and so was the teaching. Fred would talk technique and strategy as long as his son would listen.
A construction worker who put in a day's labor for a decent wage, Fred never made a big deal about what he did for a living. Michael admired his father, and over the years, he went from mischief-maker to a kid with an incredible work ethic. On the diamond, Michael was one of those players who loved practice as much as the games, and he was always in motion, always hustling. That impressed youth coach Garth Daniels, who spent extra time tutoring Michael on the fine points of hitting. Daniels did a great deal to boost Michael’s confidence overall.
Michael was a boxing fan as a child—two of his cousins were pro fighters—and he also rooted for two Los Angeles, the Lakers and the Dodgers. His basketball hero was Magic Johnson.
His favorite athlete, however, was Don Mattingly. There weren’t many "Donnie Baseball" fans in Southern California, and the All-Star first baseman didn’t play Michael’s position. But he just liked the way the New York Yankees MVP handled himself at the plate and around the bag. He was a professional in every sense of the word.
Michael distinguished himself in local baseball leagues and enrolled in Bishop Amat High School in nearby La Puente in 1990. He starred for the baseball team along with future major leaguer Mike Lamb. Michael played center field, while Lamb manned the hot corner. He also met his future wife, Cristina, at Bishop Amat. Like his mom, she also traces her heritage back to Mexico. They were married in 2000.
Michael moved from the leadoff slot to the three-hole as a senior in 1994 and drew interest from college scouts and big league teams. He was offered a scholarship by the University of California-Santa Barbara and then was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles. Feeling he was not ready physically or emotionally to turn pro, he swallowed hard, put off his lifelong dream, and packed his bags for UCSB.
Michael logged his first two seasons for the Gauchos as a center fielder. He moved to shortstop as a junior. After laboring through a sub-.500 season his freshman year, Michael blossomed into the hitting star of 32-win team as a sophomore. He finished the campaign with a .373 average. As a junior, he added power to his game, belting 12 homers and driving in 55 runs. Unfortunately, UCSB’s record dipped below .500 again. When Michael learned he had been selected in the fifth round by the Toronto Blue Jays that spring, he decided it was the right time to move on.
The Jays signed Michael and sent him to finish the year with St. Catherines. a low-level club in their farm system. His teammates on the short-season Stompers included Cesar Izturis and Vernon Wells. Hit .308 in in 74 games, playing second base and shortstop.
ON THE RISE
In 1998, his first full year as a pro, Michael batted .282 for Hagerstown. He also clubbed 16 home runs, which opened a lot of eyes in the Toronto organization. The Jays, however, were grooming him as a potential leadoff man.
In 1999, Michael showed more diversity in his game with 36 doubles and 30 steals to go with a .313 batting average. Among the Toronto coaches whom Michael credits with his maturation as a hitter was George Bell.
The 2000 season found Michael with the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League. Prior to the trading deadline, the Blue Jays went shopping for a pitcher. They fixed their sights on Estaban Loiaza of the Texas Rangers, who asked for a middle infielder in return. Toronto—stacked at the position with Izturis and Felipe Lopez—offered Mike. Texas accepted.
Michael ended the season at Tulsa with a .319 average. Next, he joined the Rangers and got into a couple of games. The team hoped he would someday become its leadoff hitter.
The following March, Michael made the big club out of spring training and shared second base with Randy Velarde. When the veteran was traded midseason, Michael got the full-time job. He appeared in 106 games and was only one of seven AL second basemen to reach double figures in homers, with 12. He batted .249 but slugged .402—not bad for a first-year middle infielder. By August, the Rangers had drifted out of contention and manager Johnny Oates was gone. Jerry Narron guided the team the rest of the way, and the Rangers wound up with a 73-89 record.
The team’s last-place finish was bitter pill for Texas fans to swallow. Michael’s double-play partner was none other than Alex Rodriguez, who had been inked to a long-term deal for a budget-busting $25 million a year. A-Rod led the league with 52 homers, and Rafael Palmeiro chipped in 47, but the rest of the Rangers were either injured or had off-years.
Things did not improve in 2002. A-Rod and Raffy had terrific seasons, but the pitching staff was a disaster from top to bottom. The Rangers lost 90 games. Michael’s sophomore campaign was one of the lone bright spots. He batted .262 with 26 doubles and nine homers and played solid defense all year.
The Rangers fired Narron and hired Buck Showalter to lead the team in 2003, but he could do no better. The club finished the year with 91 losses and a fourth straight last-place finish. Again, Michael was one of the team’s few high notes. He came into his own with 204 hits and a .306 average. An unrepentant free-swinger, Michael had learned to adjust from at-bat to at-bat. A student of the game, he usually won the mind games with pitchers and got something he could handle. He also upped his homers to 14 and his steals to 13.
After the season, Michael was asked to switch to shortstop. The Rangers, desperate to move Rodriguez, traded him to the Yankees for second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Michael wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of learning a new position, but he wrapped his mind around the idea in spring training and told Showalter not to worry—he would be fine. Before Rodriguez left, he made sure the team knew what a gem they had.
MAKING HIS MARK
Michael was more than fine. After booting a couple of balls in the home opener, he distinguished himself as one of the most dependable defensive shortstops in the league. His hitting, meanwhile, continued to improve. He was launching homers and driving in baserunners from the leadoff spot, using the entire field and getting good wood on the ball several times a game. In July, with his average up in the .330s, he was named to his first All-Star squad.
Despite the loss of A-Rod and a less-than-formidable pitching staff, the Rangers won with surprising frequency. They were in the AL West hunt until the last week of the 2004 campaign and eventually finished third behind the the Anaheim Angels by three games and the Oakland A’s by two.
Michael had another excellent year at the plate, reaching the 200-hit plateau again. He batted .313 with 22 homers and was one of four young Rangers to drive in 90-plus runs. Along with Mark Teixeira, Soriano, and Hank Blalock, Michael made up the best all-around infield Texas fans had ever seen.
Michael had another excellent season in 2005, making the All-Star team for the second year in a row. In late August, he smacked his 20th homer of the campaign. That gave the Texas infield two consecutive seasons with 20 homers a man. Only one other infield in history had done that, the 1940 Boston Red Sox, which starred Jimmie Foxx, Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin and Jim Tabor.
In September, Michael surpassed 200 hits, 100 runs and 30 doubles for the third straight year. Still flying under the radar, he established himself among his peers as one of the league's best shortstops.
Part of the reason for Michael’s low profile among baseball fans was the Rangers’ inability to build a winner. The 2005 team continued that trend. Struggling to stay at .500 most of the year, Texas and its fans watched as the A’s and Angels ran away from the pack in the West. As usual, the pitching staff shouldered much of the blame. The season went south before the break, when ace Kenny Rogers assaulted a TV cameraman on the field before a game.
Michael, meanwhile, avoided any such distraction to earn his batting championship. His .331 average was 10 points better than former teammate A-Rod and 14 points better than future teammate Vladimir Guerrero.
Michael was just as good in 2006. After setting the team record for hits in ’05, he established team marks with 52 doubles and 691 at-bats in 2006. It was another fantastic statistical season for him. He batted .314, and his 217 hits were second best in the majors. Michael also set a personal high with 103 RBIs, making him the 29th player in history to assemble a 200-hit, 50-double, 100-RBI campaign. He led the league in fielding percentage and capped off a great year by being named the MVP of the All-Star Game. His two-run, two-out, two-strike triple off Trevor Hoffman in the ninth inning turned a 2–1 deficit into a 3–1 win for the AL.
Michael headed into the 2007 campaign with a new contract under his belt. The Rangers extended him for six years for an estimated $80 million. They had only improved by a game in the standings, but team brass felt keeping Michael was part of the solution. Showalter was not so lucky. The Texas skipper was replaced by Ron Washington, his polar opposite in many respects.
Washington’s high-energy style had little impact at first. Texas failed to play .500 ball through July, and at the trade deadline, the Rangers dealt away Teixeira for prospects. Now the club’s de-facto leader, Michael was one of only four players to reach triple-digits in hits. He led the club with 201 and also had a team-high 37 doubles and 94 RBIs. His .315 average was best among the regulars.
The offense began to come around in 2008, thanks to the addition of Josh Hamilton, who anchored the middle of the lineup. No fewer than eight Rangers reached double-digits in homers, including Michael, who socked 12. He tied for the team lead with 102 runs scored and was second to Hamilton with 183 hits.
At 31, Michael was now the club’s oldest regular. But with the aches and pains mounting, his game was unaffected. Michael played rock-solid defense and won the Gold Glove for AL shortstops.
Michael was proud of his Gold Glove, but not so proud that he wasn’t willing to move to third base in 2009. Elvis Andrus, the young shortstop acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the 2007 deal for Teixeira, was ready for the majors. After a little prodding, Michael made the second position shift of his career. Heading to the hot corner would not be easy, but he knew it was the best thing for the Rangers.
Texas continued to muscle the ball at the plate, especially in its home park. Hamilton missed much of the season to injury, but Nelson Cruz stepped into the breach and launched 33 homers. The Rangers were also very aggressive on the basepaths. Michael led the club with 174 hits and a .322 average—nearly 40 points higher than the next-best regular and fifth overall in the American League. He also ended a three-year power drought with 22 home runs.
As confident and productive as Texas hitters were at the Ballpark at Arlington, the pitching staff tended to be timid. The result was predictable. The team’s young hurlers often pitched from behind and often allowedthe back-breaking bombs they were trying to avoid in the first place. Nolan Ryan, hired as team president in 2009, began working with the pitchers to build their strength and confidence. He wanted starters who were to pitch deep into games.
Ryan’s stern hand was a good compliment to Washington’s emotional leadership. The team won 87 games despite its pitching problems. In Ryan’s mind, Texas had the makings of a championship staff.
Still, heading into 2010, not many prognosticators gave the Rangers a fighting chance. The team was on the verge of financial collapse, and fans held out little hope that the pitchers would figure out their own ballpark. Ryan continued to encourage the staff to pound the strike zone and instructed Washington not to obsess on pitch counts. If the Texas mound corps was going to succeed, it would have to do so "Old School."
CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis, a pair of formerly unremarkable starters, responded to this challenge and helped the Rangers open up a lead in the West. Texas got a jolt of energy and swagger in July by Cliff Lee, who was picked up in a trade with the Mariners. The team's middle relievers were getting the job done, serving as a bridge to rookie closer Neftali Perez—another player picked up in the Teixeira deal.
The Rangers offense featured the Big Three of Hamilton, Cruz and free agent Vladimir Guerrero, a veteran let go by the rival Angels. Michael had another productive season, topping 20 homers again, leading the club with 99 runs scored and finishing third on the team with 91 RBIs.
Guerrero and Michael provided a calming presence down the stretch, as Texas survived a late-season injury to Hamilton. Late in the year, with the team cruising to 90 wins and the division title, Michael set a record by becoming the first major leaguer to start more than 282 games at second, short and third..
Michael’s leadership was no more evident than in the spring, when Washington stood in front of his players and admitted that he had tested positive for cocaine. When the manager was done. Michael was the first to speak. He assured Washginton that the guys in the locker room had his back.
For the first time in his career, Michael was on the field during the playoffs. He had waited more than 1,500 games—more than anyone in the majors besides Randy Winn.
In the ALDS, the Rangers took on the Rays. They won Game 1 in Tampa on a 5–1 gem by Lee. Wilson was just as good in Game 2, shutting down the Rays, 6–0. The key play in the game came on a check swing by Michael with two strikes, two out, and two on. It looked like he went too far, but the umps gave him the benefit of the doubt. He then drilled a three-run homer that put the game all but out of reach.
The Rangers returned to Texas hoping to close out the series, but they suffered two frustrating losses. But the team had matured over the course of the season and didn’t allow panic to set in. Lee took the mound again in Game 5 and was brilliant. The Rangers beat the Rays at home for the third straight time to advance to the ALCS.
There they completely dominated the Yankees. After a bullpen meltdown in Game 1, Texas righted it ship and won four of the next five. The pitching staff held the potent New York bats at bay, and the batting order tortured enemy pitchers with a barrage of two-strike and two-out hits.
Michael played the entire series as if he smelled the World Series. He drove in the go-ahead run in Game 2, a crucial victory that re-instilled confidence in the Texas dugout. Michael grinded out every at-bat and was in the middle of several rallies by the Rangers. In all, he had three doubles in the series and batted .333.
Talent and a team-first attitude can take a player a long way in professional sports. Unfortunately, these qualities do not guarantee a shot at a championship. The fact that Michael made it to the World Series after such a long wait gives other good guys in the game a little hope ... and shows that the much-maligned Rangers knew the true value of building a team around a winner. For Michael, it’s all about consistency.
MICHAEL THE PLAYER
Michael is a tinkerer. At the plate, he will alter his strategy and his swing from at-bat to at-bat, and sometimes even from pitch to pitch. His comfort with experimentation has thus far enabled him to avoid prolonged slumps. He also is unafraid to hit with two strikes, so he usually gets several good swings a game.
Michael makes constant adjustments in the field, as well. He studies hitters before games and can move a step here or there depending on the pitcher, count and batter’s past history. He reacts quickly when the ball comes off the bat, his footwork is good, and he has a strong arm.
Michael is also very entertaining to watch in the infield. He likes to make plays and will rarely eat a ball when he’s got a chance to throw a guy out.
The bottom line on Michael is his consistency. It is something he strives for and works hard to achieve. That comes with knowing what the little things are, and then doing them right.
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