There was a period of time the New York Yankees were truly terrible. And I am not talking “swept out of the Division Series” terrible or “ONLY winning 84 games” terrible.
I mean one of the worst teams in baseball terrible. From 1989 to 1992, the Yankees had a losing season every single year. I know. I moved to New York in 1990 and trust me, getting tickets for a Yankee game was not difficult.
There were lots of empty seats in the Bronx, total apathy from the fans and more than whispers but outright discussion of moving the team from the dangerous Bronx to the West Side of Manhattan or even to the New Jersey Meadowlands.
In 1991, coming off a dreadful 65-97 campaign, the Yankees had the first pick overall. They signed fireballing pitcher Brien Taylor. His family and Scott Boras held out for a bonus over a million dollars. He was heralded as the future ace of the team.
If I went back in time and told Yankee fans that in 1995, the Yankees would be a playoff team again and by 1996, the Yankees were going to go on a mind boggling winning streak from then until 2009, winning the World Series 4 times and winning 2 other pennants and 11 Division Titles (plus 4 more trips to the post season in the 2010’s) one would have to assume that Brien Taylor played a huge part in that turn around.
Perhaps he was the Cy Young winning ace of the team.
While a core of home grown talent did indeed lead the way, Taylor’s name did not join Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada et al in Yankee lore.
In fact, your pal Sully TIED him in every single major league statistical category. He never made it to the majors.
The native of Beaufort North Carolina wowed scouts as a potential left handed Dwight Gooden. The Yankees, ever mindful that the Mets stole the team’s thunder in the 1980’s with the emergence of Gooden and Strawberry, wanted a Doc of their own.
He was the Number 1 pick overall (over Manny Ramirez, who grew up in Upper Manhattan and would have been a sensation in the Bronx.) After the long and protracted contract squabble, the kid from the trailer park was a millionaire and off to the minor leagues.
The 20 year old pitched to a solid ERA in the Florida State League and striking out 187 in 161 1/3 innings to only 66 walks. The promise was there. At age 22, he was pitching for the Albany AA team where his 1993 teammates included Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Andy Fox, all of whom would play in the World Series eventually for a champion Yankee team.
Then came the moment that Brien Taylor probably replayed in his head for the rest of his life. His brother got into a fight, who started it depends on who you asked started it. Taylor came to defend him, threw a punch, fell and injured his shoulder… his pitching shoulder.
Dr. Frank Jobe, the Yankee doctor, said it was one of the worst injuries he ever saw. I am not sure about that statement regarding the physical injury, but in terms of a baseball career, few have hurt more.
His surgery wiped out his 1994. He returned in 1995 to the minors, assigned to the lowest rung on the ladder, the Gulf Coast League. He was torched, pitching to a 6.08 ERA over 40 dreadful innings. It got worse from there.
As his former big league teammates were winning a title in the Bronx in 1996, Taylor was laboring to an 18.73 ERA in the South Atlantic League, not winning a single one of his 9 starts and pitching only 16 1/3 innings, less than 2 innings per appearance.
In 1997 he managed to win a game in Greensboro but his ERA was still 14.33 in just 27 innings of work.
In 1998, the 26 year old was converted into a reliever as a last ditch effort to save his career. It did not work. He was once again clobbered in Greensboro. While the Yankees were winning another World Series, the parent team released Taylor. He pitched a few innings in the Indians minor league system in 2000 but never caught on.
Taylor’s post baseball life was as much of a mess as his career. After doing odd jobs and working as a delivery man, he was convicted of cocaine trafficking.
He was serving his sentence as Mariano Rivera was making his farewell tour of 2013.
So as the MLB draft continues today, Taylor remains a cautionary tale for highly touted draft picks and gives a valuable lesson for people everywhere: Sometimes let your brother fight his own fights.