While my father first introduced me to baseball with those 1980s team with Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter, I have relatively few memories of those teams due to my young age. No, as luck would have it, my real fandom began just after those players departed the Mets. That left me with an era of Bobby Bonilla being the best player on a team that went from World Series champions to refusing to rebuild.
As a result, I have an attachment to a group of moments and Mets players that were part of a largely forgettable era in Mets history. I can spin tales of watching Mackey Sasser diving against the wall in right field. I can tell you about Pete Schourek‘s dazzling one hitter against the Montreal Expos. To me, Rico Brogna was a perennial All Star, and Todd Hundley was going to be one if they Mets would just stop playing Kelly Stinnett and Charlie O’Brien and his hockey mask over him.
Another important figure at that time was Anthony Young.
Here is what is lost in AY’s history. He was a pretty good pitcher. In fact, back in 1991, AY was regarded by Baseball America as the Mets top prospect. When AY made it to the the majors, he showed he was a major league caliber pitcher. He was never expected to be an ace, and there was some question whether he belonged in the rotation or in the bullpen, but overall, he belonged.
Taking a cursory look at his stats, he was largely forgettable. As a Mets pitcher, AY had a 3.82 ERA and a 1.367 WHIP. His ERA+ was 98 suggesting he was only slightly below average. However, we know that wasn’t the full story. It never is. Missing here is the fact that AY lost a record 27 decisions in a row.
The losing streak started with AY struggling. In three early May starts, he allowed five, four, and five earned runs. He escaped his next start without a loss despite allowing four runs over 5.1 innings. Fans started to get frustrated with him and boo. AY would be shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen.
The losing streak became a “thing” in June when he made four starts and one relief appearance taking a loss in all of the games. Now, he was at eight straight losses. When John Franco went down with an elbow injury, AY became the closer. When he saved a game against the Cubs in an extra-inning game, we all learned that recording a save did not interrupt a consecutive loss streak.
While in the bullpen, he blew five saves, and he would accumulate six more losses putting the streak at 14. Things didn’t improve to start the 1993 season. First in the bullpen and then the rotation, he lost game after game after game. There were rumors of players griping. At times, fans were frustrated as AY had become emblematic of the Mets of this era. While the talent was there, the team just wasn’t winning. It was getting hard to watch, and you wondered why the Mets kept throwing the same people out there expecting different results.
Somewhere during this stretch, AY moved from scapegoat to folk hero. Fans began to cheer for him almost willing him to break this streak. To a certain extent, AY deserved those cheers because he was not one to publicly complain about either his run support or the defense. He was not complaining about being shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen. He went out there and did his job.
Finally,on July 28th, an Eddie Murray walk-off double snapped AY’s 27 game losing streak putting his 1993 record at 1-13. Both AY and Shea Stadium was jubilant. The win put an end to an infamous streak that made a relatively pedestrian pitcher newsworthy.
Well, AY is back in the news again, and once again, it is for something beyond his control. AY was recently diagnosed an inoperable brain tumor that doctors, and in reality everybody, hopes is benign. At 51 years of age, AY, a man most known for his losing, cannot afford to take another loss. He’s too young. He’s a husband, father, grandfather, and a coach. At this moment, now more than ever, he needs a save or a win. At this stage, he’ll probably take whatever he can get.
At this point, Mets fans can only offer thoughts and prayers, to cheer him on like we all did when he was losing game after game. Now more than ever, AY needs you. I know I will be cheering for him just like I did him all those years ago.
In 1991, the Mets streak of finishing second or better in the NL East came to an end. The Mets had a 77-84 record, good for second to last in the division.
Part of the problem was the Mets had a hard time retooling. Davey Johnson gave way to Bud Harrelson. Frank Cashen gave way to Jerry Hunsicker. Darryl Strawberry gave way to Vince Coleman. Gary Carter initially gave way to Mackey Sasser, who was terrific until he came down with Steve Blass Disease. The Mets knew they needed another catcher, so they traded for Magic Man Number 5 Charlie O’Brien:
O’Brien was meant to be that classic backup catcher who was terrific defensively. That was his reputation. However, he couldn’t play everyday because he was terrible offensively. In 1991, his first full year with the Mets (only year he wore 5 with the team), he hit .185/.272/.256. For his Mets career, he would hit .212/.289/.309. While with the Mets, he would only play in losing teams.
Really, his only claim to fame was his hockey style catcher’s mask, which he wouldn’t wear in a game until he was long gone from the Mets. Ultimately, he would serve as a mentor to the young Todd Hundley, but that would not be for a few more years.
Charlie O’Brien reminds me of earlier this year when the Mets couldn’t generate any offense. He reminds me of a time when the Mets were trending downward as opposed to being on the verge of something potentially great. He reminds me that older players can effectively mentor younger players to help them be the best players they can be.
Charlie O’Brien may have been on a Mets team that was heading in a different direction, but he exhibited some of the virtues that have helped make this Mets team great. So with that, let’s tip our caps to Magic Man Number 5 Charlie O’Brien.