In some ways, what Dennis Rodman was to the Detroit Pistons, Dmitri Young was to the Detroit Tigers. Rodman played the game with unashamed emotion, pumping his fists, flashing his smile, strutting, scrambling, even shedding tears. Nothing seemed to be taboo for Rodman. Similarly, Young wore his heart on his sleeve when he was between the white lines for the Tigers. Both Rodman and Young had glory days as well as brushes with the bizarre, outrageous, and self-destructive.
During his five years with the Tigers from 2002-2006, Young was consistent about one thing: he could rake. The switch-hitting first baseman came to the Tigers with a career .298 average. In his second season in Motown, Young clubbed 29 homers and was the lone Tiger to make the All-Star Game squad. He hit .297 that season, winning over fans with his baggy uniform, head first slides, hard-swinging style, dew-rag, and extravagant display of emotion on the diamond. In a game against the Yankees in which he hit three doubles, Young popped up at second base after an unnecessary slide and smacked a startled Derek Jeter on the rump to celebrate his achievement. He gave Detroit something to root for that season, when the team lost 119 games, and earned the nickname “Da Meat Hook” from Comerica Park fans.
Young made a splash at the start of the 2005 season when he belted three homers on Opening Day at Comerica Park, becoming the third player to hit a trifecta in the first game of the schedule. He went on to hit 21 homers that year but it was his last hurrah as a Tiger. The following season was a nightmare for the California native.
Things at home were not good for Young in 2006 – he and his wife were separated and going through a nasty divorce. On May 17, the Detroit Free Press reported that Young was facing misdemeanor domestic violence charges for an altercation with a young woman who was not his wife. A month later, as the Tigers were surprising everyone with the best record in baseball, Young failed to appear for a pre-trial hearing on the matter and was subsequently arrested. Shortly after that, the former All-Star revealed that he had an alcohol problem and checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic for 30 days. He returned late in July, apologized to his fans, promised to stay sober, and banged out two hits in his first game back. In September, the Tigers released Young and wished him well. he had played in just 48 games that season, batting .250 with 23 RBI. He wasn’t around for the team’s exciting run to the World Series. In the off-season he returned to a clinic for issues related to his diabetes.
But Da Meat Hook wasn’t down or out. The following season he caught on with the Washington Nationals as a first baseman. He proceeded to get on one of his tears and stay hot for the first half, entering the All-Star break with a .340 average. He earned an All-Star spot and finished in the top ten with a .320 mark to go along with 13 homers and 74 RBI. The Nats signed Young to a lucrative contract, but he was done after the 2008 season, citing problems stemming from his diabetes.
Though he had an up and down stretch with the Tigers, Dmitri Young will always be a part of Tiger lore. Detroit fans have a special fondness for happy-go-lucky emotional types. Young brought flash and dash to the club at a time when wins were few and far between.