Way up there

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Were this to start with stereotypes – and, as San Diego Padres pitcher Chris Young pointed out in his Princeton thesis, in his own stereotype of sorts, the media tends to do such things – there would be two naturals.

The tall guy.

The smart guy.

And it's not so much the stereotypes themselves that intrigue Young as the inferences that accompany them. When he spent all those hours in the back of the bus with the Class-A Hickory Crawdads writing about how the media's opinions – and thus the public's – on race seemed to shift after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, Young allowed himself a look in the mirror at what preconceived notions trailed him.

Such as this one: Because he stands 6-foot-10 and lords over the mound like Gulliver over Lilliput, Young is predisposed to bad pitching mechanics that would ultimately derail his career.

Another: Because he's Ivy League educated and baseball clubhouses teem with guys to whom the dunce cap runs a close second to the ball cap, he'd find the sport unfulfilling.

"The idea of the (thesis) was that the media shapes public opinion," Young said, "so if there's a positive or negative impact within the media, it's going to be the same impact in the general population."

So, accepting that theory on its face, please let us, as the media, posit a new stereotype for Chris Young.

The guy no one wants to face.

Since this one has taken years to build, perhaps it's not so much a stereotype as a tried-and-true fact. Facing Chris Young scares the ever-loving bejeezus out of hitters.

Because he is tall.

And because he is smart.

"I hit a home run off him," Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said, "and haven't faced him again. And I'm glad."

Players across baseball agree that the 28-year-old Young might be the toughest pitcher to hit thanks to the deception in his right-handed delivery, the downward plane created by his height and the stuff that has matured from underwhelming to overpowering. Last year, opponents hit .206 against Young, the lowest in the major leagues for a pitcher with at least 20 starts. And this year, they're even worse, batting .191 with a .280 slugging percentage.

Despite those numbers – and despite Young leading the National League in earned-run average at 2.08, better even than his Cy Young-front-running teammate, Jake Peavy – Young might be best known for his Battle of the Skyscrapers two weeks ago with Derrek Lee.

Probably because his swing and miss at Lee got more publicity than any swing and miss generated by his pitching.

"The media is going to write the story the way they want it," Young said. "Obviously, I feel like if people get to know me they're not going to have any questions about who I am."


Here's our shot.

Born in Dallas, Young grew up playing baseball, basketball and football. He outgrew football and continued as a star in baseball and basketball, both of which he played at Princeton. Considered a better basketball prospect, Young spurned the NBA to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates after they drafted him in the third round in 2000.

Two years later, they traded him to Montreal for Matt Herges, and two years after that, Montreal dealt him to Texas for Einar Diaz. Young debuted with the Rangers in 2004, turned down a two-year contract from the NBA's Sacramento Kings – this was, mind you, four years after he last played organized hoops – won 12 games the next year as a rookie and then went to the Padres with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Terrmel Sledge for pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka in one of the decade's most lopsided deals.

He's currently reading "Charlie Wilson's War," the book about the Texas Congressman who helped funnel money to muhajideen in Afghanistan for their conflict with Russia in 1980. Young loves political theory. He majored in politics at Princeton and emphasized his studies on Latin American politics, which he said helps him understand the mindsets and backgrounds of the many Latino players in baseball.

So the guy no one seemed to want turned into the guy everyone learned to like. Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Kenny Rogers and Greg Maddux, his current teammate, gave him tips, unsolicited. Young let his natural competitiveness – the one that helped incite the brawl against the Cubs – flow. On the days he pitches, his teammates call him Evil CY.

"He understands pitching," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He continues to improve. He's eager to learn. And he's prepared. He doesn't go into his day to pitch without putting a lot of effort in physically and mentally four days prior."

You can take the kid out of the Ivy League …

"Of course there's the physical challenge of executing pitches," Young said. "But then there's the mental challenge of establishing a game plan, recognizing situations, knowing hitters, remembering certain statistics. When I leave games, I'm drained."

As are his opponents. In his last 10 starts, Young has allowed eight earned runs. Three days ago, against a potent Boston lineup, Young pitched seven innings, allowed one hit and struck out 11.

However high Young sets his standards, he keeps eclipsing them.

"The pitchers," Black said, "who pass the test of time, who have long careers, who have winning percentages that are well above .500, have good heads. They figure it out.

"You can put him in that category."

That's one stereotype Chris Young might not mind.

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