Michael Young dugout

Michael Young = Derek Jeter

119 Comments

In the wake of my Michael Young post from yesterday, I was drawn into a little Twitter skirmish with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, who called the post “boneheaded,” and said I didn’t understand or appreciate Michael Young.

What Evan missed, I think, was that I wasn’t criticizing Young as much as I was being critical of the coverage he receives that seems to sweep all of his flaws and foibles under the rug as if they never happened.  Despite our conversation, Evan didn’t quite come around to my way of thinking. But then again Evan recently made the argument that Young should be the American League MVP this year, so I think it’s safe to say that he himself is one of many who get stars in their eyes when the topic of Michael Young comes up.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before, haven’t we? Indeed, it’s very much like the Derek Jeter dynamic. The dynamic in which it’s not enough to say that he’s a fine player, he has to be considered the best, and let no one give voice to the notion that his game has declined or has a flaw or three. In which his missteps, to the extent he has them, are invariably cast as strengths or, at the very least, explained away by his passion and leadership.

Jeff Bradley of the Star-Ledger makes the comparison today. I don’t think he’s being critical like I am when he makes it, but in some ways that makes it all the more telling:

In many ways, Young is the Jeter of Texas. So many similarities when it comes to demeanor and, as Young has said, the approach to the game they share. Play to win. Do what is asked. Don’t make excuses.

However, because we are provincial, because we live and work in the New York market, and focus so hard on “our” players, we probably never thought of Michael Young as a player who should be mentioned in the same sentence as Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain.

What follows is the same fairly non-critical assessment of Young’s history of moving positions in Texas. Bradley misses one earlier instance of Young pouting at a position move (when he had to move off short for Andrus) and there isn’t much scrutiny of how a man can still be considered a great team leader when he twice bristled publicly because he was not getting his own personal way and playing the position he wanted to play despite there being better options available to the team.

source:  But that’s how the Michael Young narrative has evolved, has it not?   Like Jeter, he puts people in the strange situation of having to say a great player is overrated because it’s not enough for most people to assess him for what he actually is. Instead he is cast as Lord of the Intangibles and, like Jeter, that story of his intangibles won’t accept the unpleasant truth that, at times, he has behaved in ways we don’t normally associate with leadership.  Not that he’s a bad seed or a bad player or anything close to that. He isn’t. It’s just that he’s not as perfect as his local press makes him out to be because, hell, no one is that perfect.

Like with most players, there is an ego, however understandable and limited, at work there that has led both Jeter and Young into a couple of unfortunate stances. Yet they catch little if any hell for it and woe be to the person who tries to point it out.  These players are teflon and they have a small security force of fans — including some journalists — who defend them as if they were bound by an oath to do so.

I suppose observing all of this means that I am a boneheaded hater.  If so, I suppose I’ll just accept that and hope that one day Michael Young will find it in His heart to offer me absolution.

That’s how it works, right?

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
19 Comments

It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.