Monday, February 27, 2006

Whatever Happened to #1 Draft Pick Brien Taylor?

= Would You Make DJ Jazzy Jeff Your #1 Draft Pick?

Spring is in the air...the birds are chirping, tax filing season is rapidly approaching and Roger Clemens is pretending to still be relevant (note to Roger---please see Chris Chelios re: aging with dignity). Spring is also the time for debutante balls, a period where women make their formal "debut" in front of bourgeois society. Spring Training acts as a pseudo debutante ball for players selected the previous June during the MLB Draft, allowing up-and-coming players the opportunity to justify their ever-increasing signing bonuses.

In 2004, due to some arcane rule, the San Diego Padres selected first over the far inferior Detroit Tigers. Their pick: a local high school product by the name of Matt Bush. Though it's still too early to render a final verdict, Bush has been a complete bust, particularly when compared with Detroit's pick, pitcher Justin Verlander. Besides the obligatory trouble with the law, Bush was also described by in this less-than-flattering manner: "A shortstop who doesn't hit, doesn't walk, is a singles hitter and was terrible in the clutch."

A look back on former #1 overall picks is less than encouraging: some household names (Darryl Strawberry, Harold Baines, Shawon Dunston), but certainly no first-ballot Hall of Famers (A-Rod will change that once he retires). In the last 20 years, on that list of #1 picks, one name stands out above the rest: Brien Taylor. Who? The Yankees' #1 pick in 1991, and my nominee for "Biggest MLB Draft Bust Ever."

The story of Brien Taylor is nothing if not interesting. The son of a mason and a crab processor, hard throwing southpaw Taylor was selected by the Yankees with great expectations. Contract negotiations did not go smoothly though, as uber-agent Scott Boras (acting as an "advisor" because of certain MLB rules) demanded Taylor receive Van Poppel money (a reference to the $1.5 million Todd Van Poppel had received the prior year by the pre-Moneyball A's). Taylor threatened to spend the year at a local Community College, rendering him ineligible for the MLB season, if he didn't receive the money he thought he was owed. George Steinbrenner ultimately opened up his pocketbook to the tune of $1.55 million, and the Yankees had their man.

There's two certainties in baseball: 1. If there is a game, Pete Rose is probably betting on it. 2. Strong armed left-handed hurlers, though a rare commodity, are incredibly unpredictable. Brien did his best Rick Ankiel impersonation during a couple of years bouncing between minor league teams, ultimately rendering any possibility of a major league career void when he tore his labrum in a bar fight. Brien attempted a number of comebacks with other major league teams, ultimately retiring with the same number of major league wins as yours truly. He was only the second #1 draft pick since the inception of the draft not to reach the majors (Steve Chilcott being the other).

So where is the prodigal pick these days? Investing in no-name Summer League teams like Van Poppel? Hitting the speaking circuit with freakish looking mascots, a la fellow #1er Andy Benes? Singing duets on a Bronx street corner with Kevin Maas? Wondering how the heck he got picked ahead of Manny Ramirez, Shawn Green and Cliff Floyd in the `91 draft? Or getting writer's cramp from signing as many autographs as humanly possible? (current value: $4 each)

The answer to that question I do not know. He retired in 2000 after pitching three innings of minor league baseball that season. I suspect he probably returned to his North Carolina roots, where he was a boyhood superhero, putting the town of Beaufort on the map (also the seen of his career ending barfight). If someone is willing to underwrite a journey, I would be interested in trying to track him down and find out how much of that $1.55 million he still has (and how much went towards Scott Boras' mansion).

When originally drafted in '91, Taylor told the media, "In high school nobody ever got on base so I've got some adjusting to do." It's safe to say that adjustment didn't go so smoothly. Taylor is still referred to as a cautionary example of why: 1. You shouldn't negotiate with Scott Boras 2. You shouldn't trust a lefty known for his strong arm and 3. You shouldn't draft players too stupid to qualify for even one college scholarship (Billy Beane wouldn't have touched this guy with a 10 foot pole). The story of Brien Taylor is sad, interesting and all-too-common in baseball. My advice to parents: while all the other little boys are playing baseball, steer your son towards physics.


Blogger The Pope said...

I think it is hilarious that Brien is signing autographs now. When I was 11 or 12 Brein was playing with the Yanks' doubtle A team (Albany Yankees) and visiting the Reading Phils. Being a huge Yankee fan and raised by a huge Yankee fan, I was extremely excited about the team coming to my hometown. Reading's ballpark was the perfect place to get autographs. I went with my Brein Taylor baseball card and a blank baseball hoping to get his John Hancock. When I finally got close enough to him to ask for an autograph he told me that "if I wanted an autograph I would need to come see him at card show and bring my checkbook". I thought my father was gonna kill him. Needless to say, even though I am still a huge Yankee fan I'm not that upset that this jackass didn't pan out.

The sad irony... I still can't get his autograph for free.

10:45 AM  
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7:49 AM  
Blogger ctgary said...

Woody, I am a long time Yankee fan who followed the draft that year thru any means I could as I could not wait to see who the Yanks would pick. It had come down to Taylor and Mike Kelly from ASU who had minor success in the bigs. Brien however was not hurt in a bar but outside his parents mobile home in N.C. His cousin after a night of imbibbing in alcohol with Brien got into a fight with Brien and tackled him injurig his shoulder as you mentioned. My world nearly ended that day. This news came on the heels of my brother who lived in Tampa near the Yanks minor league facilty informed me he had come to be friends of several Yankees minor leaguers. These players told him they thought Brien was an immature jerk and having a difficult time adapting to his new life. To a man they all said this phenom would fall short and disappoint. He was not liked and apparently the Yanks staff felt the same way. Too bad they didn't due their due diligance on th kid and had drafted Manny Ramirez who was a local kid with a high celing. In the opinion of most scouts he would develop as the top hitter of that draft. But I guess the prospect of developing a H.S. southpaw who touched 97 mph on the gun was too inticing. Too bad. that local kid just hit his 500th home run tonite in Baltimore.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Your story on how Taylor got such a lucrative deal doesn't wash. His mother played the race card, asserting that it was the Yankees' "racism" that was at fault for their not acceding to her son's outlandish signing demands. The Yankees promptly caved in to her, and a Daily News writer, whose name I can no longer recall, praised her for her racism. When Taylor proved a total waste, the Daily News writer developed amnesia.

Nicholas Stix

9:27 PM  
Blogger allen said...

I worked with brien at a beer & wine dist in raleigh n c about 8 years ago. then he had a nice home in raleigh. you could tell he still had money as much as he put in car. its a worder he didni kill himself. he loved to drive fast. he was a good person when I worked with him.

4:43 PM  
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