Well, let’s forget love. How about appreciate?
In his nearly two seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Delmon Young has never been embraced by fans, despite his record-setting display of power in the post-season.
On Thursday he carted off the American League Championship Series MVP trophy for his performance in the Tigers four-game sweep of the Yankees.
Whether or not he’ll ever get respect probably doesn’t matter in the long run, but in the short term, his hot bat has helped lead the Tigers to the World Series, and Young should get a lot of credit for that.
Young brings much of his problems on himself. He’s not an easy guy to like: he’s gruff at times, prone to slumps that can drag on for weeks, grounds into a lot of double plays, and plays the field like he’s wearing a blindfold. Off the field he gets worse: he was arrested in May when he allegedly assaulted a man on the streets of New York, allegedly using racial slurs during the incident. The resulting brouhaha embarrassed the team and further distanced Young from a fan base that already looked at him with mild disdain.
Still, it’s hard to understand why Tigers fans love to hate Young. Detroit is normally a city that takes a “He’s our guy!” attitude toward difficult athletes. Isiah Thomas and Kirk Gibson were two players who had their share of ugly episodes in a Detroit uniform, and Gibby struggled a lot early in his career, but both were loved and protected by the fan base. Current Lions behemoth Ndamukong Suh has lost his temper in Incredible Hulk-like fashion and still fans buy his jerseys and cheer his play. Young isn’t in Suh’s superstar status, but he is great at one thing: he can hit a baseball. But NO ONE is wearing Delmon Young jerseys to Comerica Park.
Delmon Young was the very first selection in the MLB Draft in 2003, a fantastic teenage prospect who came with a baseball pedigree. His older brother Dmitri starred for the Tigers and hit .300 for most of his career. But this “DY” – Delmon – was considered an even better hitter. He showed it immediately in the professional ranks, but he also showed a world-class temper that led to a suspension in the minor leagues after throwing a bat at an umpire.
Young hit as soon as he was brought up to the majors by Tampa Bay in 2006, showing a lightning quick bat, power, and the ability to go on torrid stretches where he carried his team on his back. He got on one of those hot streaks last October, hitting five homers in the playoffs for Detroit. The Tigers acquired Young last season in a trade deadline deal from the Twins, and after the right-handed hitter donned a Tiger uniform he drove in 32 runs in 40 games. Usually, that sort of production would earn acclaim from fans, but that has never happened.
It’s always been HOW Young does things that frustrates many Tiger fans. Young has an almost obsessive compulsion with swinging at the first pitch. Nothing irritates Tiger Nation more. Never mind the fact that DY hit .362 with 10 extra-base hits in 97 first-pitch swings in 2012, they prefer to remind you of the six times he grounded into a double play on the first pitch. Young has a gut that draws derision from some Tigers fans who like to poke fun at the way he runs down the line. Brandon Inge bounced on the field like a top and had ears that made him look like he was a 7-year old in little league, but Tigers fans loved him. Not so for DY, who is a much better hitter than Inge ever was.
Young now has seven homers and 14 RBI in 18 post-season games as a Tiger. Five of those homers have come against New York. In a previous era, Young might have earned the nickname “Yankee Killer,” instead many fans refer to their #5 hitter as “rally killer”. Even when he’s slugging the ball at a record pace and leading the Tigers to the Fall Classic, Young can’t satisfy his critics.
Young will be a free agent after the conclusion of this post-season, and with the return of Victor Martinez next year, DY doesn’t fit into the Tigers plans. His off-field problems (the case in New York will be resolved in court this off-season) are another reason the Detroit organization will likely bid Young farewell, which is their prerogative. At his young age (he’s younger than Quintin Berry), Young is really a one-dimensional player – he can hit a baseball – which makes him a DH. Some American League team will sign him to a multi-year deal (trust me, GM’s are taking notice of his post-season exploits) and he’ll face the Tigers in an enemy uniform. Most Tigers fans will be okay with that, and many will say “good riddance.” No amount of statistical evidence or post-season champagne popping will change the minds of stubborn fans who refuse to see the good that Young brings to a baseball team.
Does DY have his flaws? Yes. Is he Miguel Cabrera? No. But he deserves better from fans who usually know their baseball and normally embrace players who are clutch. No one – not even Miggy – has been more clutch these last two Octobers than Young.
Delmon Young will land on his feet somewhere in 2013, but first he has a World Series to play and he’ll probably do what he always does this time of year – hit the ball hard and drive in runs. He’s taken over the family business of hitting a baseball, and he does it well.
Earning the ALCS MVP won’t be enough to endear him to Tiger faithful. Some players, with half of Young’s track record, have written their own ticket in Detroit and been forever treated as heroes. But Young won’t be, and that’s too bad, because #21 has been a large part of the Tigers’ success these last two Octobers.