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Young following in path set by Jackie, Rose

Young following in path set by Jackie, Rose

Young following in path set by Jackie, Rose
ARLINGTON -- If Michael Young ends up playing first base for the Rangers in 2011, it will be his fourth position in 11 years.

That may seem unusual for a player who is considered the "face of the franchise," but there is historical precedent for it.

Two of baseball's most iconic players ended up playing multiple positions in their careers and made significant position changes. One is in the Hall of Fame and his jersey is retired by every Major League team. The other would be in the Hall of Fame were it not for his own downfall.

Like Young, both Jackie Robinson and Pete Rose were considered natural second basemen who ended up moving around all over the diamond. Like Young, their biggest position change came at age 34.

While it is fashionable to compare Young to Paul Molitor, a hitting machine who played multiple infield positions before switching to designated hitter for the final eight years of his career, it is also worth reviewing what Robinson and Rose did during their careers. They both switched positions in their prime without being injured and without falling back to designated hitter. Molitor became a designated hitter out of physical necessity.

Robinson was a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues during the 1945 season before being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. When he showed up to his first Spring Training, the Dodgers decided to move him to second base and that's where he played in 1946 for Triple-A Montreal.

In 1947, the Dodgers decided to bring him to the big leagues but already had Eddie Stanky at second base. The Dodgers decided to use Robinson at first base and he played all 151 games there while winning the Rookie of the Year Award that is now named after him. After the season, the Dodgers traded Stanky and put Robinson at second base. He played 116 games there but also appeared in 30 games at first and even six at third.

From 1949 -- when he was the National League's Most Valuable Player -- through 1952, Robinson played exclusively at second base and was an All-Star every season. Then came Spring Training in 1953 when Robinson -- like Young is right now -- was 34 years old.

The Dodgers had a terrific young rookie infielder in Jim Gilliam. Manager Chuck Dressen wanted Gilliam in the lineup so he unilaterally decided to put him at second base. The original plan was to move Robinson to third and have Billy Cox -- a superb defensive player -- become his utility infielder. During those days, managers did not consult with players before making changes. Robinson, as great as he was, was not given a choice.

Cox was unhappy with the move but Robinson, according to Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer, said, "I'm the one who should be upset. I'm the one being forced out of my position."

Instead it was Robinson who moved all over the diamond. He played 76 games in the outfield after having never played out there before, 44 games at third, nine at second, six at third and one at shortstop. He ended up playing in 136 games, hit .329 with 109 runs scored, 12 home runs, 95 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He once again was named to the All-Star team and was 12th in the MVP voting as the Dodgers went to the World Series for the fourth time in Robinson's seven seasons. Gilliam was the Rookie of the Year.

Robinson played three more years, mainly alternating between left field and third base while occasionally appearing at first and second. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1962.

One year later, Rose broke into the Reds' lineup as a 21-year-old second baseman and ended up being the 1963 Rookie of the Year. In 1965, he was an All-Star in the third of four seasons as the Reds' second baseman. It was the first of five positions Rose would play while being named to the All-Star team.

In 1967, the Reds shook up their lineup. Rose was switched from second base to left field, Tommy Helms moved from third to second and Tony Perez was inserted into the lineup as the full-time third baseman. It was Perez's first season playing regularly and he hit .290 with 26 home runs and 102 RBIs in the real beginning of a Hall of Fame career.

With the Reds' infield set, Rose remained in the outfield for the next eight seasons. Four seasons were spent in left, four in right field and he even started 70 games in center field. During that time, Rose won three batting titles and the Reds went to the World Series twice.

Rose, at age 34, was still in left field in 1975. By that time, Perez had been playing first base again for three years and the Reds were having trouble at third. Manager Sparky Anderson didn't think John Vukovich was the answer but he also felt that George Foster, a slugging young outfielder, was ready to play regularly.

At the beginning of May, Anderson saw Rose working out at first base. According to Joe Posnanski, writing about the 1975 Reds in his book "The Machine," Rose told Anderson he was breaking in a new glove for his daughter.

Anderson casually said that he wished Rose was playing third base, suggesting it would help get Foster and Dan Driessen in the lineup. Rose asked if he was serious. Anderson said he was. Rose asked when.

"Tomorrow," Anderson replied.

Rose, a month into the season, agreed. Foster took over in left field and was the final big piece for the great Big Red Machine that won two straight World Series and is considered one of the greatest teams of all-time.

Thirty years later, Rose told Posnanski, "Now you tell me, who would agree to just switch positions to help the club? Do you know any great player who would have done that? I'll bet you could not name a single great player who would have done that."

Michael Young.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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