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Twenty-five years ago, Anthony Young snapped his losing streak

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Young had lost 27 straight decisions thanks in large part to an awful supporting cast.

Anthony Young

Odds are Anthony Young was probably better at his job than you. He was a major league pitcher, and even the worst player in Major League Baseball is likely to be closer to the top of his profession than you are to yours. No offense.

In point of fact, Anthony Young was far from the worst major league player in his day, but he may have been the most unfortunate of his era, or any other. During the 1992 and 1993 seasons, the Met righty strung together 27 consecutive losing decisions, an unfathomable streak of accidental ineptitude unlikely to ever be surpassed. Young’s misery finally came to an end 25 years ago this week, but his example of Charlie Brown-esque unflappability lives on in the hearts of losers everywhere.

On April 19, 1992, Anthony Young contributed 3 1/3 innings of relief in a Mets victory and was credited with the win. He then waited 464 long days before receiving such credit again. Over that Sahara Desert of futility, the Mets played 222 games and even won a few of them, yet never managed to do so in some fashion that awarded a W to Young. A staggering 439 different pitchers managed to win at least one major league game during the time in which Anthony Young could not acquire a single one of his own.

Anthony Young lost first as a starter, then as a reliever, then again as a starter before returning to the bullpen and losing some more. He lost despite the fact that he usually seemed to pitch well—an assumption now backed up by analytics. He lost in defiance of statistical probability, which should have gifted him a win by sheer coincidence in least one of the 77 appearances he made during his streak. He lost in spite of the unfairness of it all proclaimed by himself, opponents, fans, and an entire nation that came to lament his plight.

It was a small miracle that Anthony Young made the majors at all, considering the Mets did not draft the Houston, Texas native until the 38th round of the 1987 draft. He nonetheless raised eyebrows with an excellent season for the Double-A Jackson Mets in 1990 while ironically setting the franchise’s record for consecutive minor league victories. Sporting News named him their top Doube-A prospect of the year, in a list that included Bernie Williams and Jeff Bagwell.

After debuting late in 1991, Young dominated in spring training action the following year to earn the Mets’ final rotation spot. Though the Mets spent big to compete in 1992, the squad they assembled proved a toxic and torpid clubhouse mix that quickly fell out of contention. Anthony Young had made the bigs at the exact moment the Mets stocked up with overpaid and underachieving malcontents. Many of the misfortunes that befell him could be explained by this unfortunate timing.

Young’s first loss of 1992, and his streak, came in Cincinnati on May 6, and the Ls piled up quickly in the weeks that followed. Occasionally he would pitch poorly, but more often he’d turn in decent efforts that were undone by porous gloves and anemic bats. Typical of his outings was the start in Montréal on June 8 when he gave up only three runs but lost because Met batters managed just one hit—an infield single by Young himself. He was relegated to relief duty after his seventh consecutive loss on June 25, as he allowed nine runs in two innings, though only three runs were earned due to atrocious fielding from Bobby Bonilla. (In a Hall of Fame jerk moment, Bonilla lobbied the official scorer in the middle of the game to take away his error.)

The change of scenery worked wonders, at first. Young excelled as the Mets’ emergency closer when John Franco was lost to elbow soreness, converting his first 12 save opportunities while racking up a scoreless streak of 23 2/3 innings. He did not pick up any wins in relief, however, and his dominance ended in September as overuse and an untreated shoulder injury led to five blown saves. By year’s end, his losing streak stood at 14 decisions. Displaying the zen-like calm that would soon become famous, Young proclaimed “It’ll all even out.”

The Mets agreed that things would even out and made relatively few moves in the ensuing offseason, ascribing the disappointment of 1992 more to a rash of injuries than bad clubhouse vibes. This assumption led to a full-blown nightmare in 1993 as the Mets played far worse baseball than they had in the ugly ‘92 campaign while behaving even uglier off the field. The miserable, petty, and occasionally criminal Mets of 1993 had neither the inclination nor the ability to do Anthony Young any favors.

The 1993 Mets were uniquely awful, yet somehow they saved a special kind of awful for when Anthony Young burst out of the bullpen. As his teammates’ incompetence contributed to five more relief losses in the first two months of the season, New York’s sports scribes fixated on him as a fount of sympathy on a team that otherwise merited none. Upon spotting Young tossing in the bullpen, one Bergen Record writer quipped, “Warming up, an angel.” When Young’s losing streak drew dangerously close to the all-time mark, Newsday cracked, “How can Young be approaching a major-league record when there is a reasonable question about whether his is a major-league team?”

Young’s self-prescribed remedy was to remain positive and do absolutely everything the Mets asked of him, but his positive attitude produced no positive results. When the pitching rotation was decimated by injuries at the start of June, he returned to starting duty despite his preference to relieve. A bullpen implosion robbed him of a win in his first start, and after this brief flirtation with success, he proceeded to lose seven starts in a row. On June 8, Young lost his 20th consecutive game to set a new franchise mark. (The previous record holder, Craig Anderson, dropped 19 straight for the Mets in 1962-1964 before taking the hint and retiring). Still, he insisted, “I’m getting a lot of support from my fellow teammates. Everybody’s behind me 100 percent because they know I deserve better.”

His teammates were indeed behind him, which was part of the problem. On June 13, Young lost number 21 to the Phillies while “allowing” four infield hits that a surer defense would have converted into outs.

Comparisons to Job abounded as the tortures Anthony Young endured attained Biblical proportions. On June 18, he started in Pittsburgh despite suffering an allergic reaction to the diamond dry compound used at Three Rivers Stadium, and absorbed his 22nd loss. When he made his next start on only three days’ rest due to yet another starting pitcher injury, teammates committed four errors behind him to guarantee he’d lose yet again. “Did you see the plays we made after he left?” said reliever Jeff Innis, noting that the Mets never flubbed so badly as when Young was on the mound. “When he goes out there, the whole team feels it. It’s intense.”

This loss, Young’s 23rd, tied the major league mark for unbroken failure achieved in 1910-1911 by baseball footnote Cliff Curtis. The record was so obscure that it was set for a major league team that no longer existed (the Boston Doves, who had rebranded and twice relocated to become the Atlanta Braves). Curtis’s grandson begged Young to “get a no-hitter next time out” so his family could keep its small if undesirable place in the record books. Young countered that he had no intention of usurping Curtis, if he could help it.

But he could not help it. On June 27, he pitched seven innings against the Cardinals, was undone by one lousy inning when multiple runs scored with two outs (another common feature of Young’s starts at this time), and lost yet again. Upon breaking the major league mark for consecutive defeats, Young was praised for facing his sad fate without any public expressions of despair or self pity. When he said, “Ain’t nothing going my way now,” these words were pronounced in a matter-of-fact tone, as if he were witnessing the horror and not subjected to it. He proclaimed, without any irony, that his philosophy was “pitch ‘til you win.” He had never lacked for confidence, and that did not waver in spite of his ignominious place in the record books—”I’m a good pitcher, I believe in myself,” he insisted after smashing Curtis’s record. Young was as baffled by the streak as anyone else, and continually expressed his belief that his bad luck was so inexplicable that it simply could not continue, in spite of the fact that it continued to continue.

He was almost relieved at having set the new record, believing this would cause the morbid focus on his plight to fade. But he was a national story now, both low-hanging fruit for hack comedians and a source of inspiration for every sad sack lamenting their bad luck. So many reporters crammed into Shea’s home clubhouse that the ceiling was busted from the excess of cameras and boom mics looking to record Young’s reaction to his every stunning loss. Though the Mets were suffering through one of their worst seasons ever—every bit as bad as their early 1960s incarnations but with absolutely none of the lovable loser charm—crowds of 30,000-plus attended his starts at Shea, hoping to be in the building when he finally broke the streak. Everyone in America seemed to me be pulling for him.

Everyone outside the Mets clubhouse, that is, as resentment over the attention paid to Young’s plight festered among some of his teammates. Unnamed veterans who saw nothing noble in his struggle whispered to the press that he had “no business being in the major leagues.” After being jeered at Shea for blowing a save, John Franco wondered aloud why his losses drew boos while Young’s failures inspired cheers. Manager Dallas Green, a tough-love type, criticized Young’s “heart” and called him on the carpet for gaining too much weight. When asked about the losing streak, a topic that irked him more with each passing day, Green harrumphed things like, “He’s the one who has to change it.” Once Young followed his record-breaking 23rd loss with two more unjust Ls—first a rain-shortened game, then eight stellar innings with no run support—Green moved him back to the bullpen and humiliated him further by letting the beat reporters break the news.

Some opponents considered Young a walking joke, like the AV team in San Diego that accompanied his emergence from the bullpen with a playing of En Vogue’s “You’re Never Gonna Get It.” The crowd in Los Angeles was kinder, giving him a standing ovation in tribute to his perseverance. But the Dodger faithful also cheered on July 24 when, after a few mishandled bunts helped to load the bases, Young walked in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th. Teammates angrily argued with the home plate umpire over the call of ball four. Young did not. He quietly accepted his 27th loss in a row.

When Young made his next relief appearance four days later against the Marlins at Shea, entering in the top of the ninth inning with the score tied at three, it evolved as a virtual carbon copy of his previous outings—an unpalatable gumbo of physical and mental errors, cheap hits, and a cruel teasing of hope before the roof came crashing down. A leadoff single dunked into shallow right. A sacrifice bunt booted by catcher Todd Hundley. Another sac bunt Young fielded but could not to convert into an out because third base was left uncovered. A 5-2-3 double play that brought Young within an eyelash of escaping, followed immediately by yet another bunt beaten out by a speedy runner as the go-ahead run scored.

There was little reason to expect that these Mets would mount a comeback. The team was already 31 games under .500, would only win 59 games all season, and had so little heart it was unmeasurable on even a grinch’s scale. And yet, the Mets started the bottom of the ninth with a pair of singles sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt, tying the game anew and, at the very least, taking Young off the hook. Then, with two out, Eddie Murray hit a long double into the right field corner, allowing the winning run to score all the way from first. On July 28, 1993, the Mets committed their sole heroic act of the season by engineering a walkoff victory in such a way that Anthony Young would finally get his W.

Asked if he was pleased to get the monkey of losing off his back, Young replied, “It wasn’t a monkey, it was a zoo.” Proud of this quip, he would repeat it often in the coming weeks as he appeared on several TV shows that feted him for his determination—most notably The Tonight Show, whose new host Jay Leno had been using Young’s name as a monologue punchline for months. When Leno gave him a chance to mock his gargantuan chin in retaliation, Young declined.

His brush with fame and success was brief. By mid-August, the afterglow of his triumph faded, Young was quietly demoted to the minors. At the end of spring training in 1994, he was traded to the Cubs for Jose Vizcaino (who would one day enter Mets lore for all the wrong reasons). Tommy John surgery that season, and Young’s insistence of working back from that surgery too quickly, all but doomed his career. A stint with his hometown Houston Astros in 1996 was cut short by more elbow trouble, and a comeback attempt in 1998 went nowhere.

Big league dreams extinguished, Anthony Young returned to Houston, where he worked at a chemical plant while coaching local youth baseball, and occasionally instructed at Mets fantasy camp in Port St. Lucie. If someone broached the subject of The Streak, they would be subjected to Young’s relentless self advocacy. He would remind you of his scoreless stretch in 1992, his 12 straight converted saves, his respectable career ERA (3.89). He would remind you that, unlike the family of Cliff Curtis, he had no love for his place in the history books. (“I wish they could’ve kept it,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2012.) He would remind you that just because he took the humiliation in stride didn’t mean he liked it. “I don’t really think I deserved it,” he said of the record in an MLB interview in 2015. “I don’t wish it on no one.”

Young passed away on June 27, 2017, felled by brain cancer at the age of 51, another unfair verdict in a life full of them. Despite his wishes, he did not live to see his record bested or even challenged, but he died believing he was better than the decisions rendered against him. He was right.