PHOENIX – In the moment when the Texas Rangers won the franchise's first championship ever, you wouldn’t have known that the two men who have become dually synonymous with the team's expedited rebuild are generally known for being measured, if not stoic.
Corey Seager and Marcus Semien roared, pumped their fists, literally hop-skipped the several yards between them in the middle infield and leapt into each other’s arms. The 5-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday in Game 5 was hardly the team’s most emblematic win — the vaunted lineup was held hitless for six innings, while their starter worked in and out of traffic before the bullpen locked it down — but it still worked to secure a ring.
“I ran right to Corey,” Semien said later, as the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field was drenched in booze. “Had some emotion, shed some tears. It’s my first one. It’s not his first one, so I probably had more tears than him. But this is why we play the game.”
While he spoke, behind him, teammates in goggles and matching T-shirts declaring themselves World Series champions stopped singing Creed to chant: “C. Y. C. Y. C. Y!”
Chris Young was born and raised near Dallas, Texas. After graduating from Princeton University, he debuted as a pitcher for the Texas Rangers at 25 years old in 2004. He won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 2015, compiling a 2.87 ERA across five appearances that postseason. He retired two years later and immediately went to work for the commissioner’s office, serving as the vice president of on-field operations, initiatives and strategy and eventually replacing Joe Torre.
When he was about two-and-a-half years into that job, Jon Daniels, then the Rangers’ president of baseball operations, offered Young the chance to come home to Texas — and return to competing for a title in the role of general manager.
“This is the only reason I’ve ever played this game. It’s all I know,” Young said after his team emerged victorious from the final game of the 2023 MLB season. “When I had the opportunity to come back here and help this franchise win, I couldn't pass it up.”
He joined the front office of a team that had finished last in the division in 2020 and would finish last again his first year on the job, losing 102 games in 2021. In 62 years of existence — the first 11 as the Washington Senators, followed by 51 in Texas — the Rangers had lost two World Series while remaining stuck on the shrinking list of franchises that had yet to win one. At the start of this season, there were six remaining; the Rangers were the oldest of the bunch.
For Seager — who was awarded his second World Series MVP for his three-homer, six-RBI performance (not to mention breaking up the no-hitter) in the past five games — the chance to do something unprecedented was part of the appeal.
“It was definitely a drawing point for me,” he said. “I won in L.A. They hadn't won in 30 years, and I saw what it did to a fan base. When I found out they had never won here, that was something that intrigued me.”
Even before Young joined the front office, the Rangers had begun to eye the offseason after 2021 as the time to start investing in the team. It was a historically talented class of shortstops that winter, and even if the Rangers weren’t ready to win yet, they wanted those players on the roster whenever they were.
By now, the confluence and magnitude of the two contracts is baseball lore. Along with starting pitcher Jon Gray, the Rangers signed Seager and Semien just before the lockout froze free agency. The total cost for the pair of position players was half a billion dollars.
“The first meeting with them,” Young said of talking to Seager and Semien, “I remember asking them their goals, and World Series was where it started. And here we are.”
“A lot of it was C.Y.,” Seager said of what sold him on committing a decade to Texas. Players praise Young’s athlete-esque competitiveness and his comfort communicating with them. “Just the way he laid it out, how he laid it out. He didn't hide from anything. He didn't shy away from anything. He knew where they were, and he knew where they wanted to go.”
“When we signed Marcus and Corey, that was the start of it all. To have a vision in place — and for them to commit to it, knowing that was gonna be a multistep process — they were all-in. I felt like, this is gonna come together,” said assistant GM Ross Fenstermaker, who has been with the Rangers since he started as an intern in 2010. “As soon as they said yes to us, we were thinking, ‘Wow, this is the start of what is going to come.’”
Daniels was fired in August of last year, with the team on its way to losing 94 games, leaving Young in charge of baseball operations. So he went out and added pitchers with the same explicit, single-minded aspiration, trading for Jake Odorizzi and signing Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and Jacob deGrom.
“I told C.Y., I was like, that's my goal coming over here, is to win a World Series championship,” said Eovaldi, who started six games this postseason for the Rangers — each one a victory but perhaps none more hard-fought than the final outing to clinch the World Series.
“I went into spring training thinking I was going to be a World Series champ,” said Scherzer, who started the season in the second year of his contract with the similarly big-spending New York Mets before they plummeted out of contention. “Baseball is wild.”
The Rangers didn’t simply spend their way to a title — though believing they did might be good for baseball. Among the key contributors who are still in their pre-arbitration years: ALCS MVP Adolis García; September sensation-turned-October doubles machine Evan Carter; the catcher who guided the staff of recently assembled veterans to success, Jonah Heim; and the All-Star third baseman who hit .308 in his first postseason, Josh Jung. The Rangers wouldn’t have won without how well all of them played — in the regular season and through the playoffs.
But the team was built on a belief that those young guys wouldn't have played so well without Seager and Semien setting an example at the top of the lineup and in the clubhouse.
Young likes to say that he didn’t want Jung, for example, to have to bat third in a rebuild. His point is that pricey, proven veterans set the tone for the talent a team has in-house and can take some of the pressure off those players to deliver after a down period heightens expectations. It’s an explanation — and a strategy — that flouts the misconception that “buying” a contender is unsatisfyingly impersonal. The Rangers pride themselves on having invested in people and the culture they bring with them. They are not a collection of cold-hearted mercenaries; it’s a team assembled with purpose.
Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the manager.
Any team that is still playing baseball in November overcame injuries — because injuries are inevitable, and whoever overcomes them best stays in the hunt. Still, the Rangers tout their resilience and next-man-up mentality with particular pride. And yet, at one point during the regular season, as their skipper stumbled while coming up the stairs and nearly fell, the star players turned to one another and said: We can’t lose him.
On Wednesday in Phoenix, Bruce Bochy won his fourth World Series title, becoming just the sixth manager ever to do so. It’s what he came out of retirement to do, and it’s what Young and the Rangers wanted him to come out of retirement to bring to Texas.
“It's special. I'm not going to lie,” Bochy said postgame. “It's special to come here in my first year, with a team that was determined to play winning baseball and had never won a championship.”
Even the members of the front office who have built their careers on believing that baseball is more knowable than it is magic have to admit that there’s something ineffable about what Bochy brings to a team. It has been just over a year since Young convinced his former manager to put fishing on hold for a little longer and come back to baseball, and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the addition of Bochy made it impossible to not wonder whether the Rangers were World Series-bound.
That it worked — just like every other unsubtle thing the Rangers did while trying to go from losing to winning without bothering to sneak up on anybody — is not so much surprising as it is satisfying.
“Nothing surprises me with Bochy. He’s a special person. I've loved working with him. I learned from him every day, and he makes everybody around him better,” Young said. “He doesn't know how much he means to me, and now he's a part of Rangers history.”