A few weeks ago, former New York Mets pitcher Anthony Young passed away. Several baseball websites discussed his death and career, from Fangraphs and their statistical analysis to Faith and Fear in Flushing and their insightful look at emotional connections to Mets players, times, and spaces.
Anthony Young was unique. He played at the top level of Major League Baseball but held a record no player should ever want – most consecutive losing decisions. Young lost 27 games in a row from 1992 to 1993. His career record was 5-35. Based on that, Anthony Young was one of the worst pitchers in Major League history.
But AY’s personality, determination, and grace under the circumstances never showed signs of a loser. Who AY was helped show people that losing in baseball was far too subjective. A player could do well, but throw one misplaced pitch, could be branded a loser.
Baseball, like life, is rarely fair.
Personally, Anthony Young was one of my favorite players in the early 1990s. Not only because he pitched for the Mets and I was a Mets fan, but on a human level, I related to AY.
I was never a born winner. Especially athletically. I was typically on the Little League teams that struggled to win one game a year. For several Little League years, I was a pitcher, and struggled not to get upset when a teammate threw to a wrong base or failed to catch a fly ball. I might not have been an all-star, but I always thought I deserved a little better.
Following my Little League years, I played countless games of pickup baseball on my block. Mostly against my friend from the adjacent subdevelopment. We used a tennis ball, a pitchback for a backstop, and automatics to determine the type of hit – weak groundballs were automatic outs, flyballs past a light pole were a home run. The end of my block was our field and we had a mutual understanding of the ground rules.
There were no fielders and no teammates to point the finger at. I pitched and I hit. If I did neither well, I lost.
I lost often.
(From what I hear, kids today don’t play street baseball like this any more. Of course, there is video game addiction, but beside that, kids are told not to pitch as often as I did. Maybe I burnt out too quick. Maybe I could have been a left-handed relief pitcher in the Majors. I guess I will never know.)
My friend and I would play every day all summer. He was stronger and threw harder. I lost at least 50 in a row.
Then, on one lazy summer day, I won. If I remember right, the score was 2 to 1, or maybe 1 to 0. I never scored many runs, but on that day, I had my friend off-balance with a mix of well located average fastballs and decent change-ups. I might have even tried to slip in a bad slider or a forkball.
Regardless of the mix of mediocre offerings, I won. And it made my summer.
With the Mets mired in their own malaise and Anthony Young’s win total still stuck on zero, I wrote AY a letter. I told him if could win on the streets of Melbourne, Florida, I was sure his day in the sun in New York City would come eventually.
Being the fan I was, I included an early ’90s Topps baseball card and a safe-addressed stamped envelop with my letter. At the end of my letter, I asked AY if he could sign my card and send it back to me. He did.
(Looking back, that seems like an awkward request. Hey, best of luck, I’m rooting for you. Can you sign this card and send it back to me because I sent you best wishes?)
A few weeks after my card arrived, Anthony Young got a win over the Marlins, finally breaking his dubious losing streak. Amidst the voodoo dolls, good luck trinkets, and other knick-knacks AY received from Mets fans with the intent to change his luck, I like to think a letter of encouragement from a fellow struggling pitcher had a small part in helping him remove the zoo from his back.