SURPRISE, Ariz. – He won't discuss the company he shares. Not his style. Michael Young would have been the guy who hit Vegas with Frank, Deano, Sammy, Peter and Joey and said the next day he was just hanging out with the boys.
No, he doesn't talk about the list, which is quite the shame, because look at it: Wee Willie Keeler, Wade Boggs, Chuck Klein, Al Simmons, Charlie Gehringer, Jesse Burkett, Paul Waner, Bill Terry, Kirby Puckett. That's nine Hall of Famers. Ichiro Suzuki may very well make a 10th, and Jack Tobin, a premier hitter in the late teens and early '20s, isn't a Hall of Famer but is a worthy No. 11.
And then there is Michael Young, the 12th player ever to reach the 200-hit plateau four consecutive seasons. All-time hits leader Pete Rose never did it, and neither did the man he eclipsed, Ty Cobb. Carl Yastrzemski, sixth in history with 3,419 hits, didn't crack 200 once.
Year after year, it seems, Young is poised to shed the obscurity that comes with playing for the Texas Rangers. First came his 200-hit season in 2003, then his batting title two years later, then his All-Star Game MVP last year and now his newly minted five-year, $80 million contract, the second-biggest pact the Rangers have given next to Alex Rodriguez's $252 million deal.
Nope. Same as always. Big numbers, little Q-rating. Eminent underappreciation, perhaps the most in the American League.
"Being a professional and being solid and getting hits isn't flashy," Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Home runs are flashy. RBIs are flashy. And we haven't won. Put all those together and a guy like Michael is overlooked."
Truth is, that works for Young.
"It's not going to help me go out and get three hits that night," he said, his mind obviously of the one-track variety. "It's not going to help me make a key play late in the game. I know my priorities."
Hit, field, lead. Take your pick.
Last season, Young led baseball with a .412 batting average with runners in scoring position. The year before, he hit .368 in such situations, second to David Eckstein, and the year before that .342, and in his first full-time duty in 2003, he was at .333.
Young's selflessness had allowed the Rangers to shift him to second base without complaint when A-Rod was signed, then move him back when Rodriguez was traded. After a few subpar seasons defensively at shortstop, Young established himself among the best fielders at his position last season, according to Baseball Prospectus' Fielding Runs Above Replacement, a metric used to gauge defensive value.
As for the guidance, Young's even keel complements new manager Ron Washington's vibrancy. Young knows the pulse of the Rangers' clubhouse better than anyone, and his influence was large enough to affect the offseason dismissal of the way-too-hands-on manager Buck Showalter.
"Mike's the guy you'd build any team around," Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock said. "His character, how hard he plays – there's not any more deserving guy of any amount of contract more than Mike Young. He's the leader of our team."
Some of it is the production, of course, and Young excels there. The rest is an imperative: Young will play every day.
His father taught him that. Fred Young was a construction worker who needed Michael's help putting his boots on because his back ached. He still showed up, still put in his hours, still provided for the family.
Last season, for the first time, Young played 162 games. In the previous four years, he had missed 13, essentially one quickie trip to the disabled list, nothing standing in his way of 200 hits.
"Health and consistency and you can do it," Young said. "And as any player will tell you, those are two of the toughest things to do. I've been really fortunate. I have stayed healthy. And if I can, hopefully I'll continue the streak."
The record is Keeler's eight consecutive seasons, though Ichiro, with six, will likely exceed that. Young, too, recognizes that most 30-year-olds don't make dramatic improvements, and that plenty start their regressions around that age.
Already, Young adjusted his batting practice. He takes some half and three-quarter swings, trying to save energy for the game.
"I still want to dive for balls," he said.
Pliers couldn't take away Young's instincts. They define him. Young will never be a favorite among sabermetricians because he's quite impatient at the plate, and he still isn't a favorite among casual fans because he's not Derek Jeter or Miguel Tejada.
"I'm very biased," Teixeira said, "but there's not another shortstop I'd rather play with. You can't say anything bad about Jeter or Tejada, so I'll put Michael right up there with those guys."
Fits. He's already on plenty of lists. Franchise player. Iron man. Most underappreciated. However much Young tries to keep his name from those types of discussions, sometimes he can't.
Because every year there are at least 200 reasons.
And they're all absolutely right.
- Michael Young