The Apprentice

Idea that Michael Young will rise quickly to Texas Rangers GM assumes a lot

Idea that Michael Young will rise quickly to Rangers GM assumes a lot

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Michael Young is probably one of the five most popular Rangers players of all time. Photo by Tony Guiterrez/AP

The news that Michael Young would join the Texas Rangers as a special assistant to the general manager earned the organization universal praise last month. And why wouldn’t it? Young is probably one of the five most popular Rangers players of all time, maybe the most popular to a certain generation of fans.

Few doubt Young’s intelligence, leadership and baseball knowledge. It was a slam-dunk, PR wise, for an organization that needed one.

The flip side was rampant speculation that Young was being groomed as a successor, one day, to current GM Jon Daniels. Daniels isn’t exactly Mr. Popular right now in Arlington. Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram went so far as to predict Young’s ascension would happen in three years.

 For whatever reason these days, playing experience seems to have less value in baseball than it does in the other three major professional sports.

That all sounds very pleasant, given how people in this area love and respect Young. But that assumes a lot. First, it assumes Daniels will either get fired or find a better job. Second, it assumes the organization would ignore the fine work Thad Levine has done as Daniels’ No. 2. Third, it assumes Young is actually the right guy for the job — and only time will tell on that.

And, fourth, it would assume that the Rangers would be willing to buck the “Moneyball” trend in professional baseball.

Running a baseball team is not necessarily a “baseball man’s” job to lose anymore. Right now there are just four general managers in Major League Baseball that actually played in the bigs — Dave Stewart (Arizona), Jerry DiPoto (Los Angeles Angels), Billy Beane (Oakland) and Ruben Amaro Jr. (Philadelphia). In fact, it was Beane — a former No. 1 overall pick who had a disappointing playing career — that ushered in baseball’s Moneyball era nearly 15 years ago in an effort to use statistical analysis to help offset the loss of his best players to bigger clubs.

Daniels is a product of that system, an Ivy League-educated economics major who never even played college baseball. At age 28, he became the game’s youngest general manager in 2005, succeeding John Hart, who is now the GM in Atlanta. Hart, by the way, never played in the majors, either.

For whatever reason these days, playing experience seems to have less value in baseball than it does in the other three major professional sports.

In both the NFL and NBA, nine teams employ a former player in the league as a general manager or top decision-maker when it comes to player personnel. In the NHL, that number shoots up to 18, more than half of the league’s teams.

It’s unclear why the numbers are so low in baseball, but one must consider there are great baseball men in non-GM positions. Nolan Ryan wore many hats with the Rangers and had a hand in evaluating talent, but he wasn’t the one with the GM title. Same goes for George Brett in Kansas City. He’s the vice president of baseball operations and most assuredly has a say in player evaluation, but Dayton Moore is the GM. Dave Stewart is the only current GM with any appreciable success as a player.

Being a general manager is more than evaluating talent, though that’s a large part of the job. It’s negotiating contracts, running a scouting apparatus, making trades and serving as the club’s face on personnel matters. You don’t learn all of those things playing baseball for 15 years. That’s why Young needs an apprenticeship.

Stewart certainly did. After winning 168 games in the bigs, Stewart worked for nearly 20 years as a front office employee, pitching coach and sports agent before joining the Diamondbacks this offseason.

It’s easy to say that on-field success usually leads to success in other areas, especially when you look at former players as GMs in other sports. In football Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end, has guided the Ravens to two Super Bowl titles. John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback, is trying to do the same in Denver. Basketball legends like Pat Riley (Miami), Larry Bird (Indiana), and Danny Ainge (Boston) are all GMs and have all had success doing so.

Will the same happen for Young? Perhaps. But let’s give Young and the Rangers the proper time to find out.