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The Most Shunned Rookie of the Year Candidate

It's only fitting Delmon Young homered at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field Monday afternoon. For it was only a year ago this Wednesday night Young did the exact same thing in the exact same ballpark in his major league debut. A year later, I'm wondering where all the love is for a man having a helluva rookie season.

Everyone loves a feel-good story in baseball, and this year has been full of them. Josh Hamilton, once on the verge of no return in the world of illicit drug use, is finally playing ball the way everyone thought he would (although it's in Cincinnati and not Tampa Bay). Rick Ankiel, who nearly decapitated fans sitting in the fourth row behind home plate with his wild pitches, has converted to an outfielder as is doing very well at it. Even a bunch of kids from Warner Robbins, Georgia, a town whose claim to fame prior to Sunday was being the home of one of the last SAC Air Force bases in America, won our hearts with a walk-off homer in the Little League World Series. So where is the love, outside of the Tampa Bay area, for Delmon Young?

After all, Young is living up to expectations set upon him when he was drafted first overall in 2003. To some people, he has already topped those expectations. On a team where many wonder if Dioner Navarro can be that franchise catcher, if Rocco Baldelli will ever stay healthy, and if the pitching staff will ever be solid from top to bottom, there have been no questions about Young's talents.

This season he's hitting .288 with 9 homers, 32 doubles, and 66 RBI. In his one-year-old career, Young has hit .294 with 41 doubles, one triple, 12 homers, and 76 RBI. Defensively, opponents are quickly learning you don't try to advance a base when Young is holding the ball. He has one of the strongest, and most accurate, arms in the majors. Some say it's the strongest they've seen in 10 or 15 years. If there's one drawback to his game, it's his impatience at the plate. But when you realize Young doesn't turn 22 for three more weeks, you know he has plenty of time to correct that first-swing passion.

So here's a guy who is all the hitter and defender the Rays and their fans could ever want. When you compare his stats to others his age, names like Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Hank Aaron pop up. He is the leader in some American League rookie statistics as well as some Major League rookie statistics. Despite all this, the national spotlight on the good story that Delmon Young has become has mysteriously been left off. Why?

Blame the media.

As a member of the media, I hate that excuse. However, in this case it's appropriate on a number of fronts.

When you look at the other names getting tossed around for the AL Rookie of the Year, you see Hideki Okajima, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Dustin Pedroia. While all three of these gentlemen have had great rookie seasons, you'll also notice they all wear Red Sox jersies. The Red Sox are on top again so America loves the Red Sox. ESPN loves the Red Sox. Fox Sports shows the Red Sox every Saturday. Poor Peter Gammons can't get his pants on in the morning due to his massive hard-on. Even poorer Reggie Willits can't get the credit he's due because he plays in a city (Anaheim) that is more concerned about where Kobe Bryant should be traded to than the success of the Angels. Young gets left out in the cold,  and part of that is his fault... and the media's.

We all know what happened that April day in Pawtucket when then-Durham Bull Delmon Young didn't like getting called out on strikes. He said a few choice words to the ump, retreated to the dugout, then slung his bat at the ump lightly striking him. It was fortunate nobody was hurt, but the replay of the bat flying from the dugout to home plate looped over and over again on Sports Center and local newscasts for all to see. People lined up to call sports talk shows to voice their opinion on Young, specifically where else he should play (anywhere but here, he may throw a bat at me!). Follow that up with a less-than-positive feature story in the USA Today a couple of months later, and the 2006 season turned into a massive trainwreck for Young. And some people wonder why he isn't cozy with the media. I can only imagine why, and I can hardly blame him.

Despite this, Young still received a promotion to the big leagues on August 29th. While the rest of Tampa Bay turned to the Buccaneers, he quietly put together a pretty good season in only 30 games (.317-3-10). This season he has excelled, and where he goes in the future is mind-boggling since he will likely go up. With his impressive 2006 start, his stellar 2007 season, and all the accolades in the world leading up to his big league career (including Baseball America's 2005 Minor League Player of the Year, and #1 prospect in 2006), most people seem to think of Young as the bat-tossing brat instead of the one Rays prospect who turned out to be what he was advertised when he was drafted.

Please America, stop the hate on Delmon. You say you can't because he did bad things in the past, but you've given his brother, Dmitri, a pass in his tremendous comeback season in Washington. And Dmitri was ONLY accused of assaulting a woman and abusing drugs and alcohol last season.

Somebody in a Boston uniform will walk away with the Rookie of the Year hardware this season. I say let them. Besides, one look at the list of past ROY winners and you see a striking resemblance to the list of the Grammy's "Best New Artist" category.

They can have the prestige and the headlines, we'll keep #26 on our team. If only everyone else realized what this kid is doing, and can do in the future.

Other notes from Raysland and elsewhere:

  • Verrrrrry interesting comments from Carlos Pena in Sunday's St. Pete Times. For once a good veteran player wants to stay here! Even though it will cost the Rays about $4 or $5 million to keep him next season (and beyond if they offer him a long-term deal), locking up Pena for 3 or 4 years would be a step in the right direction. The team finally has a power-hitting, defensively-strong first baseman who wants to stay and who deserves every penny he's earned in 2008. There used to be another player of the same mold here, and his name was Tino Martinez. He wanted to stay, the team didn't want to pay. Please don't make the same mistake this time.
  • Speaking of costs, getting Pena around $5 million a year would be a long-term bargain for the team. Seeing how guys like Eric Byrnes are getting tens of millions of dollars merely for "hustle", you won't be able to get any guy in Pena's class for $5 million by the end of this decade.
  • Whether or not Curt Schilling was merely stroking himself with his mysterious wishes to play in Tampa Bay next season, his comments bring up a point I've made over and over again-- the need for a veteran who's been through the ringer on this staff. Schilling's play is declining and his price will probably be too high, but he would hold this pitching staff accountable.
  • Wake me up when Rocco Baldelli plays again.
  • I saw the warning signs, yet didn't say anything about them. After numerous meetings between the manager, GM, and owner, followed by the "kiss of death" from Drayton McLane ("I support Phil Garner and Tim Purpura"), it should be no surprise that Garner and Purpura were fired yesterday. That still doesn't mean the firing was well-timed. Firing a manager and GM with a team nine games out in a division where ANYONE can win it does the Astros no good. If they fall short this season, clean house in October.
  • If the Cubs win the NL Central, they will likely do so just a couple of games over .500. That won't stop Lou Piniella from getting a statue of himself built outside of Wrigley though. He "saved" the Cubs (but all cards and flowers from Cubs fans should go to Ned Yost and the Brewers).
  • Damn, I had the Orioles +26 in game one last Wednesday.
  • Finally, now that the world is suddenly concerned about dog fighting, when can people start turning away from other people kicking the crap out of each other in UFC?
DISCLAIMER: As of this summer, Matt Sammon is now a part-time, paid employee of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' ownership, management, players, coaches, or other employees.