Only a Met could lose 27 consecutive decisions en route to becoming a fan favorite. From 1992 to 1993, pitcher Anthony Young did just that as he endured a record-breaking losing streak with humor and grace. Young now faces a more serious setback, having recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. As he did in his playing days, the 51-year-old projects a positive attitude in the face of adversity, a testament to the remarkable life that he has led—and continues to lead.
Young’s baseball career began in Houston, Texas, where he was raised as the youngest of five children. After achieving success as a high school ballplayer, the Expos drafted Young in the 10th round of the 1984 draft. The right-hander opted to attend college, however, and continued to pitch at the University of Houston. Three years later, the Mets drafted him in the 38th round, and Young agreed to sign with the Mets.
Young worked his way through the Mets’ farm system, pitching to a 2.99 ERA in 578.1 minor league innings from 1987 to 1991. The Mets called up Young in the summer of 1991, and the righty made his big league debut at Shea Stadium on August 5. Young was effective in 10 appearances for the Mets that year, recording a 3.10 ERA (86 ERA-) and a 3.89 FIP (105 FIP-) in eight starts and two relief outings down the stretch.
Young started the 1992 season in the Mets’ rotation. In fact, his first start of the year was a complete game victory over the Cardinals in which the righty allowed no earned runs. After going 2-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his first 30.1 innings of the season (including one relief appearance), Young found himself on the losing end of a game against the Reds on May 6. That was the start of seven straight losing decisions for Young, prompting the Mets to move him to the pen.
Young performed well in his new role: In 48.0 relief innings, the righty had a 3.19 ERA (91 ERA-) and a 3.80 FIP (109 FIP-) in 1992. He also saved 15 games in 20 opportunities while filling in for injured closer John Franco, and compiled a 23.2-inning scoreless streak from early-July to late-August. Despite his solid performance, Young lost seven decisions out of the pen, bringing his overall record that year to 2-14, while finishing with a 4.17 ERA (119 ERA-) and a 3.38 FIP (97 FIP-).
In 1993, Young picked up where he left off, going 0-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 22.0 innings in relief. Unfortunately, his luck went unchanged after the Mets moved Young back into the rotation on June 1: In eight starts, he went 0-7 with a 4.24 ERA in 51.0 innings of work. Young’s fifth loss as a starter—a 5-3 defeat to the Cardinals on June 27 at Shea—was his 24th in a row dating back to 1992, breaking the previous record of 23 straight losses that Boston pitcher Cliff Curtis set in the 1910 and 1911 seasons.
The Mets moved Young back to the pen in mid-July. In a July 24 game against the Dodgers, he picked up his 27th consecutive defeat, a record that stands to this day. It appeared that Young would be tagged for #28 in his very next appearance on July 28 after allowing an unearned run to the Marlins in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game at Shea. The Mets, however, rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth, and Young was awarded his first win in more than 15 months. Young finished the 1993 season with a 1-16 record to go along with a 3.77 ERA (94 ERA-) and a 4.07 FIP (101 FIP-).
As is often pointed out, Young’s performance was not nearly as bad as his record during that 27-game losing streak would suggest. Young was essentially a league-average pitcher in both 1992 and 1993, as his adjusted ERAs and adjusted FIPs indicate. Even his 4.36 ERA during the actual streak, though certainly not great, was not terrible by any means.
Young’s historic losing streak was, more than anything, the result of bad luck. Realizing that this was the case, Young took his misfortune in stride. The Record’s Bob Klapisch wrote that “Young was well-liked in the clubhouse and never let the losing streak affect an otherwise upbeat demeanor.” As Young himself noted, “The Mets wouldn’t have kept sending me to the mound if I wasn’t performing.”
Young accepted—and even played along with—the hype that surrounded his historic losing streak. For example, the righty kept all of the good-luck charms that fans sent him, which included “four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, [and] rabbit’s feat.” He even appeared on The Tonight Show after the streak ended. Young’s positive attitude during the whole ordeal endeared him to both fans and teammates, as you can see by their reaction when the infamous streak finally came to an end:
The Mets traded Young to the Cubs just before the 1994 season. After two years in Chicago, Young signed with his hometown Astros, with whom he played one year before retiring. In his 460.0 career innings spanning six big league seasons, Young had a very respectable 3.89 ERA (100 ERA-) and 4.23 FIP (106 FIP-).
One of the great things about the analytics movement is that it has convinced fans to care less about win-loss record, which is oftentimes a random and inaccurate reflection of a pitcher’s performance. Anthony Young is a perfect case in point, as his 15-48 record obscures an otherwise solid and productive major league career.
After his playing career ended, Young became the manager of a chemical plant in Texas before coaching youth baseball full time. “Life is good,” Young told the Daily News’s Anthony McCarron in 2009, noting that he spends his time with his greatest loves: his wife, his kids, his grandchildren, and baseball.
Even in the wake of his recent diagnosis, Young maintains his trademark positivity. “I’m doing great,” he recently told a Long Island radio station. “I never got sick behind it, I drove myself every day to chemo, I never missed a day of work…I had an MRI the other day, and the tumor actually shrunk some.”
Anthony Young has a lot of experience dealing with bad luck. What makes him unique is the dignity and composure with which he confronts it. That’s as true today as it was 24 years ago, when Young won the public’s respect despite being labeled as the biggest “loser” in baseball history.
That “loser” label was, of course, never fitting for Young. As a man who got drafted by a major league team, played six seasons in the big leagues, traded jokes with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, achieved success in business, and touched hundreds—if not thousands—of lives as a baseball instructor, Anthony Young sure sounds like the definition of a winner.