Do you remember? A look at the tragic career of Brien Taylor
By Ed Botti (March 5, 2020)
The 1990 Yankees finished the season with a 67-95 record. As a result, the Yankees earned the #1 pick in the 1991 Amateur Baseball Draft.
I remember very clearly leading up to the draft that there was much speculation and debate on who they should select. It seemed like 9 out of 10 phone calls to Mike & The Mad Dog were about the draft. I was probably one of them.
The last # 1 overall draft selection the Yankees had was in 1967, when Ron Blomberg was their pick.
Gene Michael was hired as the General Manager in August of 1990, and had the pressure of making the correct pick, and setting the Yankees future in place for the next decade or so.
Many names were thrown around leading up to that June 3, 1991 draft.
There was a young kid from George Washington High School in Manhattan that was ripping the cover off the ball and making the local papers on what seemed to be a daily basis, his name was Manny Ramirez.
But there was also another high school kid from a place I had never heard of called East Carteret HS in Beaufort, North Carolina. The legend was growing as the stories kept piling up about him doing incredible things with a Baseball. His name was Brien Taylor.
Brien, was a Pitcher, and a left handed pitcher. Perfect fit for the Yankees.
In that period, the Yankees pitching rotation consisted of Tim Leary, Dave La Point, Andy Hawkins, Chuck Cary, and Mike Witt.
It was clear to Michael that they needed to start building a pitching staff.
Young starters were being developed in the minors, such as Jeff Johnson, Wade Taylor, Scott Kamieniecki, Sterling Hitchcock and Sam Militello; all coming through the system very nicely. But none of them projected to be an ace.
The selection was made, with the first overall pick in the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft, the New York Yankees selected Brien Taylor.
His high school numbers were off the charts. A 96-98 MPH fastball and great command of nasty breaking pitches. He dominated the best high school hitters he faced. He was almost unhittable.
In his senior season he struck out 203 hitters in 84 innings, giving up only 18 hits and 24 walks.
If ever there was a slam dunk in Baseball, this was the kid.
At that time, the Yankees were primarily concerned with how he would acclimate himself and adjust to leaving a small town in North Carolina for the very first time in his life; he was just a teenager.
What they didn’t anticipate as an issue was actually signing him to a contract, and not losing their # 1 pick.
Brien was represented by a new up and coming Agent by the name of Scott Boras.
The Yankees initial offer was $350,000.
As we have come to learn in the years since, Boras will try to use any leverage possible to maximize the value of his clients, and started floating the idea of Brien attending college instead of going pro.
Helping Boras at the time was Brien’s mother Bettie, who made it known, she would enroll Brien at a junior college, if they didn’t get the deal they were looking for.
The Yankees weren’t ready to risk it. They succumbed to the Boras strategy, and signed him to a then record $1.55 million signing bonus.
Brien Taylor, a teenager from a small town in North Carolina who lived in a trailer, and worked with his mother sorting crabs for a seafood company, was an instant millionaire and highly publicized New York Yankee prospect.
A major life change, to say the least.
When the 1992 season began, Taylor was the number one rated MLB prospect according to Baseball America.
Despite the Yankees plans for Brien’s career path, and influenced by how late he signed in 1991, Taylor avoided the rookie league in 1992, and went straight to high-A ball in Ft. Lauderdale.
In the 1992 season he threw 161.1 innings in the Florida State League, and impressed the league going 6-8, with a 2.57 ERA and striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings.
He showed the fabulous command that made him such a phenom, a skill not possessed by many veterans, let alone a 20-year old kid.
He earned a quick promotion to the Double A Albany-Colonie Yankees of the Eastern League for the 1993 season.
In the Eastern League, Taylor’s impressive performance continued; he started 27 games and threw 163 innings, going 13-7 with a 3.48 ERA.
He was a rising star.
When the season ended, he went back home.
And that is where this story takes a turn for the worse.
On the evening of December 18, 1993, Taylor was at a bar with his brother and a friend when a fight broke out. The story goes that he stepped in to protect them, was picked up and slammed to the ground, injuring his left shoulder in the process, and tore his capsule and glenoid labrum.
Famed orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe called it the worst he had ever seen.
In addition to the injury, Taylor was charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from the fight.
Yankee Doctors evaluated him and he underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery on December 28, 1993.
When you hear someone was in a bar fight you might think they are a rowdy, loud, troublemaker type of person. That usually is the M.O.
It doesn’t sound like that was the case here. Most that knew him in the Yankee system say he was a shy, quiet kid who just tried to defend his brother and break up the fight.
“He was a good dude. He was a nice guy, sort of shy from North Carolina. Sometimes one thing goes right, one thing goes wrong and it can change the course of a career. Unfortunately, for him — and for us, as well — he got hurt.” — Derek Jeter
The Yankees had him set to start 1994 at Triple-A Columbus, with a team loaded with prospects and future Yankee stars including the famed “Core Four” of Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.
Sadly, Taylor would miss the entire 1994 season.
In 1995 Taylor would return and was sent to the Gulf Coast Rookie League, in an attempt to have him find his form again.
Right from the start, it was clear that he wasn’t the same pitcher.
Taylor didn’t show any of the power and skill previously shown and in 40 innings pitched, he allowed 12.2 walks per 9 innings and pitched to a 6.08 ERA.
Even though he had a poor Rookie League season, the Yankees promoted him to Single-A in Greensboro, NC, hoping that since he would be playing close to home, it might help him recapture some of the dominance and power that made him such a force in his first 300 plus innings of professional baseball.
The move was in vain.
He continued to struggle mightily. In 1996, while the Core Four were on their way to their first World Series Championship, he threw 16.1 innings with a 18.73 ERA. In 1997 he threw 27 innings with a 14.33 ERA, and in 1998 he threw 25.1 innings with a 9.59 ERA, while continuing to battle command issues and walking an absurd amount of hitters.
It was obvious at this point, and probably much earlier; the Brien Taylor of 1992 and 1993 was long gone. The promise of a bright future as a major league star was gone as quick as it had begun.
The Yankees released him at the end of the 1998 season, and he signed with the Seattle Mariners.
Taylor attempted to continue by taking part in the Mariners extended spring training program, but was released in June do to his inconsistency on the mound.
In 1999 he did not play at all.
In 2000 he attempted one last shot at a comeback, now playing in the Cleveland Indians organization, and ironically in Greensboro, NC.
He threw 2.2 innings, allowed five hits, eleven runs, nine walks and struck out just two; his ERA was 27.00.
His baseball career was over.
Sadly, the story doesn’t end there either.
After his retirement from Baseball, he moved to Raleigh NC with his 5 children. He got a job with UPS, then became a beer distributor.
In January of 2005, he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor child abuse. The police claimed that he left four of his children (ages from 2 to 11) alone for more than eight hours.
To make matters worse, he did not show up for his court appearance. There were now four outstanding warrants for his arrest.
In March of 2012 he was arrested again and charged with cocaine trafficking after undercover narcotic agents bought large amounts of crack and cocaine from him over a several month period.
In June of 2012 he was indicted in Federal Court on cocaine trafficking charges.
In August 2012 he was sentenced to 50 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release; he was released on September 12, 2015.
History will show that he was once expected to be the next star for the New York Yankees, and would have played on the 1990’s dynasty teams.
Tragically his whole life changed in the blink of an eye on a cool winter night at a bar in North Carolina.
Taylor looked as though he was destined to be a superstar major league pitcher. A flame throwing lefty with great command and nasty breaking pitches, playing in the greatest city in the world for an iconic franchise; the Ace of the Yankees.
As John Lennon said years before about destiny “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…”
In retrospect it’s easy to wonder how great Brien Taylor could have been.
Gene Michael once compared Taylor’s abilities to Randy Johnson’s… “Only Taylor threw a little bit harder.”
Brian Cashman once said Taylor was “a left-handed version of Pedro Martinez.”
Whether or not any of that would have played out on a major league field will never be known.
Imagine if he stayed on course, the fight never happened, and Taylor came up with Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte?
The Core Four might have been known as the Fantastic Five.
Unfortunately, the fight did happen.
Instead of rings, money, and fame, he would become one of only three #1 MLB Draft selections never to make it to the Major Leagues, joining Steve Chilcott in 1966 by the Mets, and Mark Appel in 2013 by the Astros.
Brien Taylor, arguably the greatest pitcher none of us ever got to see.