Anthony Young’s losing streak nothing compared to a brain tumour

Young in the midst of his sad losing streak, 1993.

Young in the midst of his sad losing streak, 1993.

Men who live in hard luck develop a courage sometimes impossible for those not making his voyage to comprehend. A pitcher who lived in such luck pitching for the Mets in the 1990s, is going to need that courage more than even when he suffered the major league record for a pitcher’s losing streak.

Anthony Young has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. The 51-year-old grandfather, who’s spent the years following his pitching career coaching youth teams in his native Houston, after giving up a job in a chemical plant, revealed it at a Mets fantasy camp in recent days. Bergen Record writer Bob Klapisch reported doctors uncertain whether it’s malignant, but sure that it’s in a part of his brain they can’t reach.

Young had the guts to smile his way through and stand up against a 27-game losing streak–27 consecutive losing decisions in games in which he was given the decision—he incurred from May 1992 to July 1993, smashing the record long held by Clifton Curtis of the Boston (eventual) Braves. He probably has the guts to spare to smile his way through this uncertainty.

Until Young’s surrealistic run the likeliest Mets to break the streak appeared in the team’s embryonic years. Craig Anderson suffered a sixteen-game losing streak in 1962 (after getting the wins in both ends of a doubleheader that May); Roger Craig suffered an eighteen-game losing streak in 1963 that put him one shy of meeting the single-season record held by Jack Nabors of the Philadelphia Athletics. Neither Curtis nor Young equaled Nabors’ single-season infamy.

“I got a bad rap on that,” Young told the New York Daily News a few years ago. “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. It was an 82-year-old record and it might be 82 more years before it’s broken.”

A tall righthander with a delivery almost as elegant as Dwight Gooden’s, Young actually had a 3.82 ERA in 1992-93, the seasons of the streak. He pitched for terrible Met teams and threw mostly to a catcher (Todd Hundley) who could flat out hit but who wasn’t always a consistent handler of pitchers. (To Met catchers for 30 or more games, Young performed best when Charlie O’Brien was behind the plate, his ERA with O’Brien 3.32 compared to the 4.12 with Hundley.)

Perhaps even more surrealistically, Young interrupted the losing streak during 1992 when he filled in for injured Mets closer John Franco and recorded twelve saves and two holds in fourteen save situations.

Though it happened during the period when the Mets were brought low after several years of dubious moves that dismantled their 1980s glory teams completely and left them known as The Worst Team That Money Could Buy (according to the title of a book by Klapisch and Daily News writer John Harper), Met fans set their disgust aside as the Young streak began building its sad momentum.

Celebrating in the middle of a pack of teammates the night his streak ended at last.

Celebrating in the middle of a pack of teammates the night his streak ended at last.

They treated Young much they way they’d once treated the Original Mets. The deeper the streak went, the deeper went Met fans affection for the hapless, handsome righthander. As they’d done with Craig during 1963 (one nut sent him a black cat thinking it might change his luck), they sent Young talismans ranging from horseshoes and four-leaf clovers to rabbit’s feet and, in the case of one female fan, her original $2 bill.

The Mets’ offices reportedly got calls from psychics willing to pitch in. Even Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who wasn’t exactly renowned for an accommodating personality as he aged, sent him a letter of encouragement among the thousands Young received from fans in New York and elsewhere.

The News said Young kept most of the souvenirs sent him during the streak, in the same box in which he kept them in his Shea Stadium locker. He also kept a videotape showing his appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and his meeting with the family of Cliff Curtis.

Young took it with gracious humour when his coaching charges discovered his previous infamy. “Once they find out you were in the big leagues, they Google you,” he once told the News. “Then they say, ‘Coach, you’re known for a losing streak!’”

The righthander whose May 1991 major league debut involved relieving Pete Schourek against the Cubs in the seventh and striking out Shawon Dunston with the bases loaded and the Mets down 5-1 ended the losing streak with a flourish in two years later.

Even that one came the hard way. Young relieved Bret Saberhagen to open the eighth against the Marlins in a tie game and surrendered an unearned run, thanks to catcher Todd Hundley’s throwing error allowing Darrell Whitmore to reach safely in a sacrifice situation, setting up first and second.

Young in 2009, serene and happy coaching children, as captured by the New York Daily News.

Young in 2009, serene and happy coaching children, as captured by the New York Daily News.

Walt Weiss bunted to third and beat it out to load the pads for pinch hitter/future White Sox manager Rick Renteria, and Young got him to dial Area Code 5-2-3 for two swift if delayed outs. But Chuck Carr singled Whitmore home to break the three-all tie, and Young looked like he might be heading to consecutive loss 28.

Then, against ill-fated Marlins closer Bryan Harvey, pinch hitter Jeff McKnight lined a single through the hole at second, Dave Gallagher bunted McKnight to second, Ryan Thompson sent McKnight home with an odd pop single behind first base, and—one out later—Hall of Famer Eddie Murray doubled home Thompson.

Young barreled his way through the crowd of celebrating Mets to thank them and was escorted to relief by Hundley draping an arm around him. Then he returned to the crowd of Mets and manager Dallas Green—a man not necessarily known for suffering losing gladly—draped an arm around the righthander.

The hard-nosed manager who once exploded at his players over the merest miscue in a game developed a kind of inverted admiration for Young. “It’s a difficult thing for him to go through. That’s why we’ve had stiff hands out there. Everyone’s trying to do a little too much,” Green once told Sports Illustrated. (The article was called “Sigh Young.”)

A hard-luck pitcher himself during his playing days, maybe Green understood more than credited when a pitcher took lash after lash but had the guts to face up to each one. Even the New York Times took note of Young’s dignity. “Mr. Young endures all this with remarkable dignity,” said an editorial, “acknowledging the pain of his predicament but never giving in to it by whining.”

Young’s going to need that remarkable dignity even more now. He’ll have one thing on his side, just as he had all those years ago: all New York, and maybe elsewhere, will be right there. Maybe even with a few four-leaf clovers and a couple of horseshoes.

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