Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Anthony Young, 1966-2017

The unluckiest man in baseball has been unlucky for the last time.

Anthony Wayne Young was born on January 19, 1966 in Houston. He went to the University of Houston in the mid-1980s, a time when Carl Lewis, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were recent graduates. He was drafted as a righthanded pitcher by the New York Mets in 1987.

He made his major league debut on August 5, 1991. He pitched 2 1/3rd innings in relief of Pete Schourek, and allowed a run. As a result of a double switch, he was placed in the 5th spot in the batting order, but did not come to the plate. The Mets lost 7-2 to the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium.

The next season, he switched from Number 33 to 19. Unfortunately, these were the 1992 Mets, The Worst Team Money Could Buy, according to the title of a book by sportswriter Bob Klapisch. On April 19, he was the winning pitcher, despite allowing 2 runs in 3 1/3rd innings of relief, as the Mets beat the Montreal Expos 11-6 at the Olympic Stadium. This was followed by relief appearances without decisions in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Then, on May 6, he was the losing pitcher as the Mets lost 5-3 to the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium. He kept losing, finishing the year with a record of 2-14, although he did have 15 saves.

The streak continued into 1993. He broke the record of 23 consecutive losing decisions, by Cliff Curtis of the 1910-11 Boston Doves (forerunners of the Braves). He eventually lost 27 straight decisions: 0-14 as a starter and 0-13 as a reliever.

If 1992 was a competitive disaster for the Mets, 1993 was one both competitively and morally. It was the year Bobby Bonilla threatened Klapisch in the locker room, captured on video; Bret Saberhagen put bleach in a water gun and squirted it at reporters and Vince Coleman set off a firecracker in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, injuring a toddler. Manager Jeff Torborg was fired, and noted disciplinarian Dallas Green was brought in. Green was able to stop the tomfoolery, but not the losing. And it was hardly just Young: Even stars like Saberghagen and future Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray were underachieving.

It's not that Young was particularly bad, either: Included in that streak was 12 straight save opportunities successfully converted, and 23 2/3rds consecutive scoreless innings. Those 27 losses included 13 "quality starts," but the Mets went just 4-23 in those games -- and in none of those 4 wins could the win be credited to Young. I don't remember the details, but I do remember that either the 24th, 25th or 26th straight loss was one in which he stood to be the winning pitcher, but he was betrayed by his defense.

Fans sent him good luck charms: Four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, rabbits' feet. Psychics called the Met offices, offering their help. No less than Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers then living, wrote him a letter of encouragement. He was introduced to Cliff Curtis' descendants, who wished him well. Jay Leno invited him to appear on The Tonight Show when the streak ended, and he did.

"Finally!" I remember Len Berman saying on WNBC-Channel 4 on the night of July 28, 1993. Young was 0-13 on the year, 0-for-his-last-27, and Green brought him in to pitch the 9th inning against the expansion Florida Marlins at Shea. He didn't help himself, but an error by catcher Todd Hundley also contributed to the Marlins scoring a run. But in the bottom of the 9th, Jeff McKnight singled, Dave Gallagher sacrificed him to 2nd, Ryan Thompson tied the game with a single, and Murray doubled Thompson home with the winning run. Mets 5, Marlins 4. WP: Young (1-13).

After the game, reporters asked Young if it felt like "the monkey is off your back." He said, "It wasn't a monkey, it was a zoo."

Years later, he said, "I got a bad rap on that. I always said I didn't feel like I was pitching badly. It just happened to happen to me. I don't feel like I deserve it, but I'm known for it."

The Mets traded him to the Cubs before the 1994 season, and he finished his career with the Houston Astros in 1996. His career record was 15-48 -- 15-21 without the streak -- but his career ERA was 3.89, giving him an ERA+ of 100, exactly average, and his WHIP was 1.387, bad for a reliever, but for a guy who was a starter and a reliever, not especially shabby.

He returned to the Houston area, married, had 3 children, worked in a chemical plant, and coached in local youth leagues.
But earlier this year, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. It took his life yesterday, June 27, 2017. He was just 51 years old.

Anthony Young did not deserve to lose 27 straight decisions. He did not deserve to have his 51st and 52nd years be full of pain and misery. He certainly did not deserve to have his 52nd year be his last.

May he rest in peace. God knows he earned it.

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