In the crush to get to the curiosity, otherwise known as Anthony Young, something finally broke on Sunday: the ceiling. It happened in the office of New York Met manager Dallas Green when the plaster was struck by the video camera of one particularly zealous newsman who was looking to catch a better glimpse of Young. Amid the psychics who had called, the fans who had mailed their lucky trinkets to him, the 36,911 people who had bought tickets to watch an otherwise most unattractive team, and a growing media corps, the 27-year-old Met pitcher had just lost 5-3 to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was his 24th straight defeat, a string of indignity that erased a record by Cliff Curtis of the National League Boston team that had lasted 82 years, longer than the Titanic has been in the drink.
Though the ceiling above him cracked, Young wouldn't. With a roll of the eyes, Young said, "Hey, don't tear up nothing. We're going to be all right." And so he went into history with the same upright qualities—dignity and grace—that have served him so well since loss No. 1, back on May 6 of last year. He is a good loser.
Young's comportment, as much as anything, explains why the thrill-seeking Met fans greeted him with a warm ovation during pregame introductions. Alas, the cheers, as well as a 2-0 New York lead, faded in the fourth inning when the Cardinals scored three times on three consecutive hits, just after the Mets had nearly turned a third-to-second-to-first triple play. That's how much of a reach this is becoming for Young: The pitcher was left to lament not getting a triple play. St. Louis touched Young for two more runs in the sixth on three more hits, one of them by opposing pitcher Joe Magrane.
"He's got to pitch out of those situations—the other guy did," Green said, referring to Magrane, who doused four Met threats with ground-ball double plays.
With a 4.42 earned run average in his 70 appearances during the streak, Young had earned his letter, which is something of a Met tradition. What former Mets Gregg Jefferies and Darryl Strawberry' did for E's and Z's, respectively, and what Dwight Gooden did for K's, Young has done for L's. His only W of late is his middle initial. And yet Anthony Wayne Young has become a folk hero, a soft spot in a hard town, his appeal transcending the sports pages. On its editorial page, a forum typically devoted to the weighty events of the world, The New York Times praised him in a piece entitled "A Noble Loser." Opined the Times, "Mr. Young endures all this with remarkable dignity, acknowledging the pain of his predicament but never giving in to it by whining."
With all the talk these days about role models in sports, here's an athlete to whom we can relate. Michael Jordan? The best we can do is marvel at him in all his sculpted beauty. Young, though, gets our empathy. Shoot, he's even got a slight weight problem: He needs to drop, according to his manager, about 10 pounds.
This is a man with such rotten luck that when groundskeepers in Pittsburgh spread a drying substance on the mound during a rainfall on June 17, just hours before the Pirates hosted the Mets, Young suffered an allergic reaction to the stuff when he took the hill. Teary-eyed, he went on to lose No. 22. Then there was the game in Chicago on June 1 when he threw six shutout innings against the Cubs, only to have the Met bullpen surrender eight runs in the next two frames; Young got a no-decision. Even when he indulged in a rare outburst of frustration, Young slipped up. While taking a kick at a roll of toilet paper after loss No. 18 on May 16, he missed and struck the commode instead, nearly fracturing a toe.
On June 22, Young tied Curtis with a typically cruel defeat, a 6-3 loss to the Montreal Expos. His infielders committed four errors that led to three unearned runs. Young departed that game after six innings, in a 6-0 hole, whereupon the Mets proceeded to play flawless defense. "Did you see the plays we made after he left?" said New York relief pitcher Jeff Innis. "When he goes out there, the whole team feels it. It's intense."
Said Green, "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." In fact, Green himself was thumbed in the fifth inning of the June 22 game after a dirt-kicking tantrum directed at umpire Charlie Williams.
There has been precious little support from his teammates, who scored an average of 2.75 runs in his 24 losses. Then again, this is a team that, after 73 games, was the worst in baseball and, at 21-52, stood only one game ahead of the pace set by the infamous 1962 Mets, the losingest club in baseball history. Yes, sir, Young couldn't have done it without them.
Support from outside the clubhouse, however, was tremendous. One of the psychics who recently called the Met offices offered to arrange a sèance with Curtis. Another fan claiming to be a doctor offered reassurance that after losing 22 straight patients, his 23rd operation turned out to be a success. Others sent him rabbit-feet, coins, a plastic troll with orange hair, a Buddha statuette and a miniature horseshoe, all of them supposedly possessing the mystical power to end the losing. Good sport that he is, Young adorned his locker with the notions, a sort of shrine to the gods of fortune.
After loss No. 23, Young wore a black T-shirt with this message on the back: LIVE AND LEARN. "I'm not the type to run and hide from my problems," Young said.
And how bad is he? Well, his career record is 4-29, leaving him with a better lifetime batting average (.146) than winning percentage (.121).
Then again, Young can throw the ball 90 mph and is often the subject of inquiries from clubs looking to make a trade. And he did throw 28⅖ scoreless innings last season—during the streak. "If you were sitting up in the stands," says Green, "you'd say, 'Hey, he's got an arm.' "
That, too, is what his fans find endearing. He has enough talent to make them curse his luck. But mostly it's his gracious resolve in the face of defeat that has won Young so much sympathy. To look into his sad, dark eyes—or even at one of his 24 historic box scores—is to gaze into a looking glass. Another bad day at the office. Rain during the vacation. Smoke rising from underneath the hood. Be like Mike? In truth, we are like Anthony.
"Everything is over with now," he told that jostling crowd of reporters in Green's office on Sunday afternoon. "I broke the record. I'm in the record books. Now that I have the record, I hope you all can leave me alone." Would that it were so easy to leave it behind. Young is scheduled to start again on Saturday, on the 110th anniversary of the birth of Cliff Curtis.