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Young's 'retirement' won't be restful01/09/2008 9:00 AM ET
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
"Seinfeld" made its debut. Actor Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) was born. Secretariat died. Madonna's "Like a Prayer" was the biggest hit song of the year. Pitcher Dave Stewart was World Series MVP for the Oakland Athletics.
That also was the last year that Ernie Young did not play in a professional baseball game.
Young, 38, officially announced his retirement this past fall following an 18-year playing career. He departs as the active Minor League leader in home runs, RBIs and runs scored.
With 319 homers, he was the lone active player to have topped the 300 mark (his closest competitor had 262). His RBI total of 1,136 was more than 100 better than his nearest challenger and he had a 50-run margin when it came to scoring (1,052).
Young chose to hang up his uniform after a 2007 campaign that was plagued from the outset by back trouble that limited him to a .214 average, 13 homers and 42 RBIs in 107 games for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights (White Sox).
Young began his playing career back in 1990 when the Oakland Athletics drafted him in the 11th round out of Lewis College in Illinois. He made his debut with Southern Oregon in the short-season Northwest League, where he batted .280 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 50 games.
He moved steadily up through the ranks, landing in Oakland for a taste of the big leagues in 1994.
He spent parts of six more seasons in the Majors, including all of 1996, when he batted .242 with 19 homers and 64 RBIs for the A's. He also saw time with Kansas City, Arizona, Detroit and Cleveland, most recently in 2004. He had a .225 career average in 288 games.
But it was as a stalwart at Triple-A that Young made his reputation, both as a slugger who hit at least 20 homers nine times and as a role model for his organizations' up-and-coming prospects.
A .281 hitter over 1,680 games, the outfielder-turned-DH wore his unofficial crown as "Dean of the Minors" with the class and dignity that typified his career -- and without bitterness that he did not spend as much time in the big leagues as he might have wished.
"Milestones are a sign of longevity and perseverance," Young said. "I will never hang my head for not playing as long as I would have liked in the Major Leagues."
A leader on the active career charts for the last several years, Young also was a leader in the dugout and the clubhouse and off the field.
"I always wanted to lead by example. That's part of being a professional," explained Young, who played for nine different Triple-A teams (Tacoma, Edmonton, Omaha, Tucson, Memphis and Portland in the Pacific Coast League and Toledo, Buffalo and Charlotte in the International League). "I think guys probably looked at me and said, 'Well, he's doing this and he's played this long, so that's the type of player I want to be.'"
Although he knew by mid-July that 2007 would be his last season as a player, he kept his plans quiet until the end of the summer. So much so that the Knights' front office had to scramble to honor him with the "Ernie Young Appreciation Night" he so richly deserved.
Young received a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 7,000 prior to a 4-3 win over Norfolk on Aug. 24. In addition to a Knights jersey signed by all of his teammates, he also received a rocking chair.
But don't look for Young to spend his "free time" relaxing in that chair, catching up on soap operas and reality TV. His plate remains quite full.
For one thing, he steps across the baselines, where he'll be the White Sox's hitting coach at extended spring training in Tucson before moving on to coach their Great Falls club in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2008.
And he will continue to wear several different hats -- in this case, baseball caps -- as he continues his longtime involvement with USA Baseball.
On the coaching end of things, he's looking forward to spending the spring and early summer months an hour's drive from his Gilbert, Ariz., home, working with the Sox's hitters in Spring Training and extended camp before the Pioneer League gets underway in June.
Those will be the first steps on the path toward his goal of becoming a manager.
"I feel I have a lot to offer and I want to be able to give that to all of the players, not just a certain group," he explained. "I want to be able to go out and show them the right way to do everything."
While that may be his official, pay-the-bills job, he has no less passion for his other roles, with USA Baseball, as a member of several committees, including one to create the selection procedure for the upcoming 2008 Olympic team, and with the International Baseball Federation as one of the United States' representatives.
A member of both the 2000 gold medal-winning Olympic team and the 2003 qualifying team that fell a game short of the 2004 Olympics, Young remains dedicated to representing his country and supporting the governing organizations.
"USA baseball is my extended family," said Young. "I love every one of them there. Whatever I can do for them, obviously with permission from the White Sox, is great. It's for our country."
While he has one eye on the upcoming Olympics, another is looking well into the future. With baseball having been eliminated from the Summer Games for at least 2012, he is part of the campaign to have it reinstated in time for the 2016 event. And he's hoping to see those games played here in the USA, namely in Chicago.
"There will be a vote for reinstatement in 2009 and we have to gather support to push that through," he said. "A big help would be my hometown of Chicago getting that 2016 bid for the Summer Olympics, and I'm heading home in a few weeks to meet there with the Chicago delegates."
If it sounds like Young is going to be busy, well, he is. But he likes it that way.
"I've always wanted to go over and beyond the call," he said, "whether it's on or off the field."
He admits, however, he won't be going quite as "over and beyond" as he used to when it comes to putting in those extra hours at the gym during the offseason.
Asked what he thought he'd miss most in his first year of "retirement," Young joked, "I'll tell you what I won't miss: I won't miss going to the gym, then leaving the gym, then going to the field and playing catch, then going to hit. My workouts would take anywhere from three to six hours. Now I go to the gym and work out and I'm done for the day. I like that."
It seems clear that while Ernie Young may no longer be playing baseball, he'll still be an integral part of whatever organization or organizations are lucky enough to have him. And don't think the White Sox aren't aware of that.
"I don't know what his niche will be, but I can see him managing or I can see him in the front office," said Alan Regier, the White Sox's director of player development and Young's longtime friend and neighbor. "He's a grinder and he has such a passion for the game."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.