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CBSSports.com National Columnist

In 'Moneyball' world, Young's legacy has become fuzzy


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The older baseball guys love Michael Young. The mainstream media, the grizzled vets, the baseball lifers. They love him. To them, he's a great player, a clubhouse leader, a potential Hall of Famer.

The younger baseball guys don't love Michael Young. They don't hate him, but they don't love him. They esteem him, nothing more or less. To them -- the bloggers, the hipsters, the sabermetricians -- Young is a good player, maybe even a very good player, but he's not all that. He's damn sure not a potential Hall of Famer.

I'm telling you this for a variety of reasons, most notably this one: Michael Young had one of the biggest hits in the absolute biggest game, to date, this season. He had the leadoff double in the eighth inning Monday night, a shot into the gap in right-center that started the Rangers' tiebreaking rally in Game 5 of the World Series.

By the time the inning was over, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had used four different pitchers, intentionally walked two batters and seen it all blow up -- as most of his moves Monday night seemed to blow up -- in his face. The detonation was provided by Mike Napoli, whose bases-loaded double scored the final two runs of the Rangers' 4-2 victory.

But the first bit of blasting powder was sprinkled by Young, that double off Octavio Dotel.

Young wasn't the story of Game 5 -- that would be Napoli, the frontrunner for World Series MVP if this thing ends Wednesday at St. Louis in six games -- but he was one of the top plot lines.

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Which brings me back to my plot line -- Young's role, for lack of a better word, in the evolution of the game's coverage. His place in the conversation between the two camps of baseball media: old vs. new, mainstream vs. sabermetrics. Michael Young isn't just straddling the fault line. He is the fault line. Him and Derek Jeter, I suppose, but Jeter is fading and the Yankees didn't make it past the first round this year, whereas Young had one of the better seasons of his potential (?) Hall of Fame career and is here in the World Series -- and delivering the second-biggest hit of Game 5, the rally-starting double that led to Napoli's game-winning double that has the Rangers one victory from the title.

I'm probably going to generalize some stuff along the way -- I probably already have -- but that's what both sides of this argument deserve. They've been guilty of generalizing as well, shoehorning Young into this box or that one, as if he's a one-dimensional character in some bigger drama.

And he's not. He's just a guy who gets a lot of hits and drives in a lot of runs, but also complains a lot when he's asked to move positions, something Young is asked to do because he's so dreadful at almost every position he has ever played. Including first base. How many former shortstops can't even beat out a catcher, Napoli, at a relatively easy position like first base? That's Young, who was the designated hitter in Game 3 because Rangers manager Ron Washington preferred Napoli -- the heavier, slower catcher -- at first.

Anyhow, Young's a complex case. He hits the ball like a star, getting to 2,000 career hits faster than all but 10 players since 1900.

Read that sentence again.

That's some kind of accomplishment, and Young did it. He also has an American League batting title to his credit, hitting .331 in 2005, and he hit even better this season (.338), finishing third in the batting race. He also led the AL this season with 213 hits -- though the younger, hipper baseball types would note that he managed to do that because he takes so few walks (his on-base percentage, .380, was only 42 points higher than his batting average). Young also was fifth in the league with 106 RBI.

But those are stats -- hits, RBI -- that have been devalued in today's age of sabermetrics. Young's WAR, according to FanGraphs.com, was a relatively skimpy 3.8. That was 29th in the American League, tied with Carlos Santana. And Carlos Santana hit .239 this season.

So Young is that guy, an offensive version of the Felix Hernandez vs. CC Sabathia debate for the 2010 Cy Young. And writers on both sides are waging their own war, on Twitter and in blog posts. It's a little unseemly, to be honest, the way both sides are using Michael Young the way an angry divorcing couple uses their only child to get at each other.

And if a hotheaded irrational like me is calling something unseemly ... well, think about it.

And think about this: Young has 2,061 career hits and 917 RBI, and he turned 35 only last week, and he keeps himself in magnificent shape. He has played at least 155 games nine times in the past 10 years, reaching 135 the other year, and he just produced his sixth 200-hit season. He's not going away. If he stays healthy, he'll approach 3,000 hits, and if he gets there, he'll be a Hall of Fame shoo-in. Baseball traditionalist, sabermetric hipster, I don't care what side of the fault line you fall: You vote a guy with 3,000 career hits into the Hall of Fame.

You just do, unless you don't. Unless Michael Young becomes the first player in history to reach that number and fall short. Hey, one of these days, someone will fall short. That's a guarantee. Used to be 1,500 career RBI was a Hall of Fame benchmark. Get there, and you're in. The first 36 guys to get there, got in.

And then Harold Baines got there. He was No. 37 to reach that number, and he finished with 1,628 RBI, and he's not in the Hall of Fame. He's not even close, never receiving more than 6.1 percent of the vote in his five years on the ballot.

Maybe Michael Young becomes the Harold Baines of 3,000 hits. Maybe the hipsters will win this war over WAR. Maybe they should win. I don't know which school of thought, old or new, is the better one to analyze a baseball player. I don't pretend to know the answer to that question.

I'm not sure the question has an answer at all.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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