The Death of Anthony
Young: A “Noble Loser"
Anthony Young, a pitcher for
the New York Mets twenty-five years ago, died this past June
at age 51 [Disclaimer: this is not a baseball story].
This is what might be called a cross-over
story, in that it transcends the game of ball and speaks to
possible applications in dealing with the bummers encountered
in life. This is a story about perseverance and grace in the
face of failure and the quirks of fate.
Think of the time-honored maxim, “If
at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.”
Which was originally used to encourage schoolchildren to do
their homework, by American educator Thomas H. Palmer (1782-1861)
… should this come up in at your next cocktail party.
We might have even uttered it ourselves at one time or another,
in advocating a philosophy of what one might call “Sticktoitism.”
But what if you try, try, try, try, 5,10,
20, even 27 “agains” to be exact, and still come
up empty? Such was the case for Anthony Young who lost that
many consecutive pitching decisions during the 1992-93 baseball
A non-fan of the game might ask, why did the
Mets keep sending him out there if he was so bad? The Alice
in Wonderland answer —he had talent! He kept pitching
good enough to lose (the White Rabbit ought to be passing
by at any moment).
Meaning, he was a lot better on a terrible
Mets team than his record would indicate. Many of his losses
were of a heartbreaking nature; often so close to victory.
And he did perform well in other games that did not result
in a won/lost decision on his report card. And finally, at
the very least, you would think that the law of averages would
have had to kick in at some point to end his cruel punishment.
Hailed for his composure during his Sisyphusian
ordeal, a New York Times editorial in the main news section
under the headline “A Noble Loser,” had this to
say as he was closing in on a major league record for futility:
“Mr. Young endures all this with
remarkable dignity, acknowledging the pain of his predicament
but never giving in to it by whining.”
An irresistible aside, had the current technology
been in existence back then (and thankfully wasn’t),
a prominent New Yorker might have Tweeted in response:
NEWS by a failing newspaper. The guy is a total loser!
I was moved at the time to write a short poem
about his plight and my reaction to it, which was published
a couple of years later in Spitball, a literary baseball
magazine. Yes, there is such an animal. In fact, a few.
Angeles Times July 11,1995)
of lightning flashed in the sky over the bullpen
and a sudden wind kicked up. The cool breeze was soothing
relief from the sweltering heat…
in walks Anthony
Young. The number—
on his back.
With Dred Scott eyes, he takes the mound
quietly prays for justice.
As we nurse
on the sweet breasts of victory
do we seek in the misfortune in other men’s eyes
from the hanging curveball?
Are we back
to life when the string is broken—
to be read like tea leaves? Anthony Young
us! Or at least get out of the inning.
When the string did finally snap, his manager
popped the cork on a bottle of champagne in celebration. Now
a celebrity of sorts, Young appeared on Jay Leno’s Tonight
Show where he said, that it wasn’t a monkey off his
back… “it was a zoo.” Yet more bad luck
was to follow, in the form of recurring elbow pain requiring
surgery. In turn, it would lead to an end of his career just
four years later.
An obituary in Sports Illustrated
noted that, “After retiring from baseball, Young went
on to become a youth pitching coach in his hometown of Houston.
He continued giving pitching lessons while undergoing treatment
for his brain tumor.”
You can imagine that the kids he was coaching
knew of his backstory. They might have heard it from their
parents, or even through Young himself. It would have been
within character for him, given his sense of humor and acceptance
of his dubious place in baseball history. And it might have
served as a lesson for them when dealing with the frustrations
that come in trying to learn a competitive skill, and overcoming
the inevitable doubts that arise along the way.
Though I wonder at their takeaway upon hearing
that their coach, Mr. Young, was dead.
Quote of the Month
14,1977: NYC Blackout Video - ABC News
“Just when I
thought I was out…
…they pull me back in!”
I thought of this line, chewed on by Al Pacino
as only he can, from The Godfather III, as I sat
there watching the O.J. parole hearing televised last month.
Was a parole hearing ever televised before, I wonder? But
then again, was there ever an O.J. before, which I don’t
need to wonder.
Here I am, having frequently decried the exploitation
of reality TV—and is there any other way to describe
“The Juice” and his “you-can’t-make-this-up”
life saga? —transfixed before my screen. Again?! Yes,
…O.J. pulls me back in. Damn.
In anticipation of his entrance in his prison
blues, before the parole board (one member of which would
be sporting a tie embossed with the logo of an NFL team, we’d
find out later), the mind wanders off to that low speed white-Bronco
chase. Could it have been 23 years ago already? A time before
One can imagine if social media existed back
then, that an internet on overload, would have crashed and
burned under a deluge of tens of millions of comments and
opinions (150 million in the U.S. originally viewed that “trial
of the century”).
Some would be denouncing, others cheering
on, The Juice in his Keystone Kops attempt at escape. One
can further imagine, #Ididntdoit responses coming from the
Bronco, thanking those for their support. Perhaps even commenting
on how well a Bronco handles (there could after all, be a
product endorsement in all of this at some point down the
With that ride now completed on my memory
reel, I’m once again back in the courtroom watching
Marsha Clark and Chris Darden taking feeble swings at the
curve balls thrown by the Dream Team, who handled them with
“acquit” gloves, so to speak. And this circus
sanctioned by star-struck
judge Lance Ito, in his Tinsel Town decision to allow TV into
the room. One can easily imagine that Ito’d be joining
in with the Nevada parole board members, who took a selfie
before the hearing to determine whether a man once
convicted of spousal abuse and armed robbery, should be let
out into society at this time. It would have been a real downer
to deny parole after this wonderful celebratory moment.
Had model Prisoner Juice known this beforehand,
he would have been even cockier and more mendacious, while
turning up his legendary charm another hundred watts, in addressing
the board. Imagine:
“I’ve led a ‘conflict-free’
life, which is something I’m trusting you wonderful
folks could say as well, so maybe we can play a round
of golf after I’m out here on October 1st. Though
I’m a little off my game (hee hee), having spent
nine years in here as payback for a crime I didn’t
commit. Though no hard feelings. Oh, and maybe you can
move it up to September 1st in time for a Labor Day barbeque
I’ve been invited to (wink)?”
The incredulous “conflict-free”
remark (which he actually had the footballs to say),
went uncontested by the Board of Fawns. They came to praise
Caesar not to bury him. (Wanna’ see their selfie again?).
To reference yet another phrase: “What happens in Vegas
stays in Vegas.” And so, O.J. stayed. Nine years. For
a bungled robbery attempt that most legal experts agreed,
would have been only a couple of years at most, for any other
regular Joe Schmo, or Kato Kaelin.
Clearly, the sentence was an attempt at some
sort of payback for you know what, and to you know whom…
their ghosts hovering over the proceedings. Though in the
interest of accuracy, O.J. was not really incarcerated in
Vegas, but at the ironically named Lovelock
Correctional Facility, which is about 450 miles further north.
I hung in there throughout this 90-minute
program, despite it being apparent how the "Lovelockians" would
decide. And while waiting for their “verdict,”
the mind once again wandered. This time, to the awaiting of
that 1995 Verdict, and the anxiety it generated in all of
us living in LA.
Still fresh in memory, were the riots that
ensued just three years earlier, following the acquittal of
three police officers who had beaten the absolute crap out
of Rodney King.
As I wrote in my journal back then…
April 30, 1992
Thursday 9:30 PM
“Today from the 11th floor of our
office, we witnessed a gang zip down Wilshire Blvd.—drive
up on a sidewalk—and I will not ever forget this,
hit a young guy on a bicycle, with a crowbar. We watched
them then break into a sporting goods store…We watched
powerless and in fear for our safety—our lives.”
“Flames engulf the city, creeping
around boundaries that separate ‘good’ and
When you thought of O.J.’s trial, you
couldn’t help but remember all that, and make such an
association. And so, you worried what might happen if a guilty
verdict came down. Though you wanted to see justice done.
October 3, 1995
Tuesday 8:30 PM
And so much for conventional wisdom…another
surreal day in LA. We all held our collective breath this
morning at 10 AM. In my office the TV on—about a
half dozen people or so in my department crowded around…not
guilty…a gasp…tears from the Goldman family—no
make that sobs. And out in the streets the disenfranchised
down by the court building jumping around, whooping it
up, as though O.J. had just scored a touchdown.”
Of course, the tabloids have now had a field
day with this latest chapter in the O.J. story.
Where he goes from here? Literarily back to
Miami where he lived nine years ago. And to paraphrase legendary
Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, “All riots is
local.” So, let the locals worry about him and what
he might wrought while in their midst. Though watching him
lumber into the hearing room, it seems that for this senior
citizen, his days of high crimes and misdemeanors are over.
Though expect to see him star in a new reality show, that
might already be in development. But I’m out! I mean
it this time.
Though as written by Gershwin that
when the living is easy,
a devil sun has been hard at work
dare to take to the sky.
And no fish are jumping again this year
in the decade that just flashed past
just an East River eel
by like a run-on sentence.
These dog-eared days
if only on the page
of love and lust and a Charlotte Russe
cherry on top
sweltering nights upon linen—
time travel interruptus on this
pause to hear in the mind’s ear
from out of the blue mood.
if by way of that salmon-colored-
excuse me, you in the Great Up There?
you please, a request:
to Watch Over Me.”
Just a Number”
Isn’t that what they always say? And
who are “they,” anyway? And why are they saying
that? And will they still be saying that when “your
number is up”? Which is a downer.
But I like numbers. And I like to play games
with them. (Yes We KenKen MARCH,
2009 MUSE-LETTER). And though the number that I’m
approaching this month is not the “Big Something-O,”
it is so mathematically divisible—with ten variations
on a theme— that I couldn’t resist:
I will be celebrating my 36th two-year-old
I will be celebrating my 24th three-year-old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 18th four-year-old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 12th six-year-old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 9th eight-year-old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 8th nine-year-old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 6th twelve-year old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 4th eighteen-year-old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 3rd twenty-four-year-old birthday.
I will be celebrating my 2nd thirty-six-year-old birthday…
…in other words, and numbers, I will
be seventy-@#%?&*-two years old!
Just out of a passing curiosity, I checked
out to see who else is in deep water, so to speak.
Here is a list of some well-known and not so well-known celebrities
who have reached this number, or will have before the year
is out, that you may or may not find surprising. Or about
whom you might, or might not give a mouse’s butt. A
cat’s claw of commentary accompanies some.
Jagger, who with his 29-year-old girlfriend will
become a father for the 8th time! He will soon be burping
his newborn and his girlfriend.
Bianca Jagger, former spouse,
who one would assume is beyond birthing. It’s a long
way from Studio 54 and that night on the white horse.
Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano;
“infamous Mafia rat who got a free pass on 19 murders
for ratting out John Gotti.” (I swear Sammy, I didn’t
say that. I just got it off the internet. Ya’ gotti
He’s released from prison this year,
and “… he is in talks for making his own TV show
when he gets out.” Thereby dispelling F. Scott’s
Fitzgerald’s famous contention that there are no second
acts in American life, even if the first one was criminal
in nature. And of course, just what we need. Another reality
show. (This is Reality? JUNE,
Ward as Robin: "I am a little hungry."
The late Adam West as Batman:
"Of course, Robin. Even crime-fighters must eat. And
especially you. You're a growing boy and you need your nutrition."
—Batman, season 2, 1966-67
Priscilla Presley, married
to The King 50 years ago— this month also marks the
40th anniversary since he left the building—she has
seemed forever young. Even up close. I’d see her at
our kids’ school, and even though she acted like a just
another mom, through six degrees of separation, I guess I’m
connected to Elvis. Holy overworking it!
Carly Simon: You’re
so vain, I’ll bet you think this age is about you.
Steve Martin, who has been
prematurely gray since the mid-seventies, now finally looks
his age. When his parents came backstage one night following
a play I was in, and I asked them who Steve got his sense
of humor from, “Oh, his mother”—replied
his father curmudgeonly. Sorry I asked. Bitter strokes, for
different old folks.
Rod Stewart: “Do Ya’
Think I’m Sexy?” No. Not for a while now. Though
he is on tour with Cyndi Lauper, which concludes on the 12th
of this month in Sugar Land, Texas, where the climate is classified
as “humid subtropical.” As a public service, might
I suggest to his old fan base that should they chose to attend,
please hydrate first. Thank you.
And to round out the list in no particular order:
Eric Clapton Tom
Selleck Lorne Michaels Jacqueline
Bisset Itzhak Perlman Steven
Stills Phil Jackson Richard
Belzer Gabe Kaplan (“Welcome Back Kotter)
James Carville Micky Dolenz (“Hey, hey we’re
The Monkees”) Joey Heatherton
Danny DeVito Brenda
Lee Jose Feliciano Lauren
Chapin (“Kitten” on Father Knows Best”)
Michael Douglas David Sanborn
Kim Carnes (“Bette Davis Eyes”) Swoozie
Kurtz Tony Dow (brother of the Beaver) John
Heard (who passed away last month) Deborah Harry
Barry Bostwick Adrienne
Barbeau Clifton Davis (“That’s
My Mama”) Van Morrison Maud
Adams Helen Mirren Ernö
Rubik Henry Winkler Bob
Seger Neil Young John
Lithgow Bette Midler Chris
Matthews Diane Sawyer Jacelyn
And my point is…light summer reading?