Dmitri Young announced his retirement today, making the world of major league baseball just a little bit poorer. However, he is becoming the Vice President and Senior Adviser of the Baseball Operations for the Oakland County Cruisers of the Independent-A Frontier League.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Dmitri Young, even though he’s had a rather sordid past. The thing is that Young has always struck me as basically a good person, just with more than his fair share of human frailties and weaknesses.
In 2003, he had one of the greatest years ever for a truly awful team, hitting .297 with 29 HRs and a .909 OPS for the Detroit Tigers, a team that went 43-119, the worst record of any major league team since the 1962 Mets (40-120). In fact, Dmitri’s 2003 was eerily reminiscent of Frank Thomas, who hit 34 HRs and drove in 94 runs for the ‘62 Mets.
There’s something noble about playing that well for a team that bad.
Another thing that endeared me to Dmitri was that I once saw him on TV talking about the fact that he collected baseball cards. He had cards from the ’60’s and ’70’s and seemed genuinely interested in the stars of the past and what they had done and accomplished. There generally aren’t many major league players who really care about the history of the game (at least, not until they retire and become TV announcers) and the players who came a generation or two before them.
As I said, Dmitri certainly made some mistakes during his career. In May 2006, while going through a divorce, he assaulted a young woman (his girlfriend) in Michigan. He ended up going into rehab for thirty days during the season, where he was treated for alcoholism, substance abuse and depression. A bench warrant was issued when he failed to show for a court appearance while in rehab, but he ended up pleading no contest to the charges and was sentenced to community service as a first-time offender.
The Tigers were on their way to their first World Series appearance since 1984, and by September 6, they’d had enough of the distraction. They cut Young, and after being the lone lion on the 2003 squad, he wasn’t there when the team went to the Series. Truly sad.
On the day after Thanksgiving 2006, Young nearly lost his life. He collapsed at his family’s home and was rushed to the hospital, where he spent three days in intensive care while the doctors diagnosed and treated him for diabetes. [BTW, I bet this happens more on Black Friday than any other day the year, after everyone has spent a day gorging on Thanksgiving grub.]
The Nationals, who were desperate for talent, signed Young for 2007. He ended up winning the Nats’ first base job and had a terrific season, hitting .320 with an .869 OPS and winning the Player’s Choice Award as NL Comeback Player of the Year.
Of course, that was Dmitri’s last great hurrah, and by the 2009, his weight was up to 300 lbs. Somehow, that too seems like Dmitri, a truly addictive personality. It’s of particular concern due to his diabetes, and I have a strong feeling it will end in heartache for Dmitri and his family.
Here’s the wikipedia article on Dmitri’s career. One anecdote is particularly telling about Dmitri, as far as being a ballplayer goes. On May 6, 2003, he hit two homeruns, a triple and a single, coming into his 9th inning at-bat, needing only a double to hit for the cycle. He hit a ball into the gap and legged it out for a triple.
When he was asked after the game whether he knew he could have had a cycle if he had stopped at second, he was quoted as saying, “It crossed my mind, but since the game was close, my individual accomplishment took a back seat. The run is the important thing.” That’s what you want to hear from a ballplayer.
Young had 15 total bases in that game, one short of the Tiger record set by Ty Cobb in 1925.
On April 4, 2005, Young became only the third player, along with George Bell and Tuffy Rhodes, to hit three HRs on Opening Day. Also, he retires as the only player ever to hit three HRs in a game at Comerica Field.
I, for one, will miss him.