Chris Young could have been a Chihuahua in the Pacific Coast League. Instead, he became a vice president for Major League Baseball.
When the San Diego Padres told Young in March that he would not make their opening day roster, they offered him a chance to pitch for the El Paso Chihuahuas, their Class AAA affiliate. Young could have tried to squeeze his way back to the majors for a 14th season. His stuff had felt crisp in spring training.
“I thought there was a little bit of juice still left in the lemon,” he said by phone on Monday. “But at what expense?”
When life gave him lemons, Young came to baseball’s aid. Unwanted by the Padres, he was eagerly welcomed by the commissioner’s office. Major League Baseball hired Young this month as vice president for on-field operations, initiatives and strategy, and he works out of the league’s Park Avenue office in Manhattan.
“We were all blown away, everybody from the commissioner on down, with his demeanor, intelligence, composure and passion for the game,” said Dan Halem, M.L.B.’s deputy commissioner for baseball administration. “We all knew we had to hire him.”
Young, who started on Monday, will assist the chief baseball officer, Joe Torre, and a senior vice president, Peter Woodfork, on issues related to discipline, rules, pace of play, umpires and special projects.
Torre is a Hall of Fame manager, but he has not played a major league game in more than 40 years. Young, who turns 39 this month and holds a degree in politics from Princeton, brings a fresh perspective to the commissioner’s office that it had lacked.
“Automatically, Chris is going to be a very influential voice,” Halem said, adding later: “We get a lot of our player input from the union, but it gives us a real benefit to have a player come right off the field to give ideas and perspectives we wouldn’t think of. When he speaks on issues, everyone’s going to be quiet and listen because he’ll be the only one in the room, at least on our side, who played the game for the last 14 years.”
Young — who pitched for five teams and won a World Series ring with the 2015 Kansas City Royals — has long been interested in a front office career. His father-in-law, Dick Patrick, is the president of the Washington Capitals, and a Princeton friend, the former N.H.L. right wing George Parros, is the head of that league’s department of player safety.
“He’s had to levy suspensions,” Young said. “He said, ‘It’s a tough job, and you’re going to make some enemies, but you’re trying to protect the integrity of the game and protect the way the game should be played.’ He said he does it with the right intent, and that’s the same plan I have.”
Young has experience on the other side of discipline. In 2007, while pitching for San Diego, he was fined and suspended five games for throwing a punch at the Chicago Cubs’ Derrek Lee, a hulking first baseman.
“That was the heavyweight division, no doubt about it,” said Young, who is 6 feet 10 inches. “In the heat of the moment, you say things, you do things, you misunderstand things — and certainly now that my kids are old enough to Google that, I regret it. But it’s part of the game and it happens.”
While discipline will make more day-to-day news, the broad strokes of Young’s job may be more important. Baseball wants to appeal to younger fans who expect action, yet fewer and fewer balls are being put into play. In his new position, which includes a spot on baseball’s competition committee, Young can influence any potential changes to the game.
“The main goal here is to make the game better than we found it,” he said. “That’s what excites me and motivates me.”