MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Young embodies leadership for Rangers

Young embodies leadership for Rangers

Young embodies leadership for Rangers
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Those best equipped to define the meaning of leadership are those who follow the leader. With the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers, this means everyone except Michael Young.

When shortstop Elvis Andrus, a rising star at 23, looks at Young, he sees everything he wants to be. Compliments don't get any more sincere.

"You're always learning stuff from Michael -- not just myself, everybody on this team," Andrus said, arriving in camp on Saturday with eight new pounds of upper-body muscle and his customary smile. "We're always looking up to him.

"He's a great role model to me. I've always got my eye on him. I want to be him in the future. I want to play until I'm 40 -- 20 years. That's why I watch everything he does. He's a great leader, a great player, a great human being."

Apart from that, there's really not much to like about the guy.

Texas manager Ron Washington makes his State of the Rangers address to the club on Sunday before its first full-squad workout. He will touch on the widely perceived club hangover from having been close enough to a World Series title last October to touch it -- only to watch it slip away in St. Louis, one climactic strike short of a wild Lone Star State celebration.

Young, who takes the temperature of his team every day, doesn't anticipate any problems at all. His feeling is that the Rangers are so strong internally that there is no way they'll lose any of the drive that has fueled their rise to elite status.

"Concerned? Not at all," Young said. "That's something that takes on a life of its own, but it's on the outside, not with anybody on this club. If you're a competitor, you don't let it affect you.

"The last two years have been great for us and the [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex. Our work's not done. We know we have a lot of talent here, and we know what we have to do."

The Rangers have a freewheeling, relaxed clubhouse, loaded with vibrant characters. Newcomers such as Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre last season and Yu Darvish this spring are quickly embraced and made to feel comfortable. They have a great deal of fun together -- right up to the time when the game faces surface.

"The good thing about this group is new guys become part of the core quickly," Young said. "Nap has been here a year and is a huge part of the team. Adrian is a great guy on the club.

"If you go out and play hard and fit in, you're going to be part of a fun atmosphere. But at 6 o'clock, it gets serious. It's all business on the field."

Young was 27 in 2004 when he assumed team leadership in his fourth season. It was thrust upon him with the departure of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees.

"I've never sat there and said, `I'm the leader, this is my team,'" Young said. "I show up and I'm going to be myself. I'm not going to throw up a phony front.

"I was put in a leadership role when Alex got traded. At the time, I was an example leader. I'm very vocal now. Everything starts and ends on the field. You want leadership, and we have a clubhouse full of leaders. It comes to you naturally; it's not something you can put on yourself.

"At the end of the day, it's pretty simple, really. It's about being yourself and caring about the guy next to you."

It is because of this one-for-all, all-for-one mentality that Young believes Josh Hamilton, the resident superstar with free agency on the winter horizon, will have no issues identifying what is important in the weeks and months ahead.

"I'm not worried about Josh at all," Young said. "I know he's a [potential] free agent, and it's a big year for him. But every year is big for a player. It's the nature of the job.

"I like to think I'm still getting better. I've never bought into the idea that players face this inevitable decline. Players allow themselves to let that happen when they stop getting in shape and lose their fire. I'm not letting that happen."

At 35, coming off one of his best seasons, Young's winter was more peaceful and enjoyable than the previous offseason when he was unclear of his role with the arrival of Beltre, one of the game's premier third basemen.

Trade rumors floated for months before it was determined that Young would remain with the Rangers in a new all-purpose role, shuttling between all four infield positions and the designated hitter job.

It was a major internal issue, a potential threat to the club's finely constructed chemistry. Young handled it as he does all things: directly, with his inherent, unshakable integrity.

"Last year wasn't uncomfortable at all," he said. "My teammates know me; I'm always honest with them and have the team's best interests at heart.

"On Day One [of Spring Training] I talked to the press and said I was not going to talk about it anymore. That squashed it, and that was it."

Young led, in his pure and engaging fashion, and the Rangers followed him to within one out of the big prize. No hangovers will infiltrate this clubhouse. The leader just won't have it.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.