Million Dollar Arm
Brien Taylor and the New York Yankees
The town of Beaufort, North Carolina is small and quaint. If you were to find a celebrity walking the nearly vacant sidewalks of main street, or at a local cafe overlooking the water, it would most likely be somebody from Swamp People or Duck Dynasty. Perhaps a Nascar minor leaguer passing through town after a modified race the night before. You wouldn't expect it to a fabled left handed pitcher, taken #1 in the Major League Draft, by the evil empire, New York Yankees. But this fishing town is home to a one-time hard throwing baseball prospect, now more myth than actual person.
In the summer of 1991, East Carteret High School announced a graduating class of a little over 100 students. Among them was Brien Taylor, the star of the varsity baseball team. He destroyed opposing teams, racking up 213 strikeouts to just 23 walks in his career of just 88 innings pitched. So impressive his stats, that his games were attended not just by scouts, but general managers, and big league pitching coaches. In the 1991 Major League Draft, the Yankees found themselves in a position they were not very familiar with. The number one overall pick. So much of a lock was Taylor to be the top pick, the Braves who had the second pick in the draft said they scouted pretty much everyone but him.
Brian Cashman remembers a conversation with Bill Livesey, considered by many in and around the game as one of, if not THE best scout in the history of baseball. Cashman recalls, “Bill said the best amateur position player he ever scouted in all his years, was a kid named Alex Rodriguez. The best pitcher he ever scouted, was Brien Taylor.”
His fastball consistently reached 99 miles per hour, and occasionally reached triple digits. Some rumors have suggested he reached 104mph on more than one occasion, though no one can find a record of this. The Yankees GM at the time, Gene Michael says of scouting Taylor, “He had the same ¾ arm slot as Randy Johnson, but he could throw harder than Randy.”
True to form, and as expected by everyone in the know, the Yankees took Taylor first overall in the 1991 draft, and immediately entered contract negotiations. They offered him $300,000. A standard minor league contract offered to high school players taken high in the draft. Taylors family hired an advisor for the negotiations, named Scott Boras. Per his instruction, they pushed back on the Yankees, as the previous year's top pick, Todd Van Poppel, received a signing bonus of $1.2 million. His situation was different though, as he was enrolled to play baseball for the Texas Longhorns, and Taylors grades and test scores would prohibit him from playing NCAA division one baseball.
The Taylors stood firm, and threatened to play a year of junior college and re-enter the draft the following year. Famed New York owner, and icon, George Steinbrenner was serving a suspension from major league baseball at the time, but quoted to the media, “If the Yankees lose Brien Tatylor, they should be shot.”
In August of 1991, the Yankees and Taylor agree to a signing bonus record at the time of $1.55 million. Going into the 1992 season at High A Fort Lauderdale, Taylor is ranked as Baseball America’s #1 prospect in baseball. They spend the season working on his pickoff move, and he racks up 187 strikeouts to just 66 walks in 161 innings pitched.
60 minutes does a segment about the phenom, unlike anything people have ever seen. Taylor is mobbed by fans at every small town minor league stop. Baseball cards at this time are starting to boom, and everyone wants to get their hands on a Brien Taylor Classic rookie card, or if you could find one, the 1992 Topps Gold autographed rookie, #723. Available only if you bout the complete Topps Gold box set, it could only be had for hundreds of dollars.
1993 starts with Taylor as the #2 prospect, behind 1992 first overall pick Chipper Jones. He starts the season at AA Albanie Colonie, and while developing a curveball to compliment his heat, strikes out 150 batters.
During the 1993 offseason, the Yankees ask Taylor to play in a winter league. The plan being for him to play AAA in 1994, and be a front line major league starter on opening day in 1995. Taylor declines, and goes home to North Carolina. In December of 1993, he defends his brother in a fist fight, and while throwing a haymaker, falls, and lands awkwardly on his left shoulder. Scott Boras tells the press its a bruise, but the Yankees team doctor refers to the injury as the worst damage he has ever seen, and performs surgery to repair a torn capsule and labrum. Taylor misses the 1994 season.
He came back in 1995 throwing 88-90mph, and completely unable to locate his curveball. His minor league career from here on out will consist of less than 100 innings. He moves home permanently to take care of his 5 daughters, and work laying brick with his father. In June of 1992, Brien Taylor was arrested and sentenced to 4 years in prison for cocaine trafficking.
In 2020, he is an unknown to baseball fans under 40, and even most fans over 40. Not even a has been, but a never was. His treasured baseball rookie card, at one point selling for $5 on ebay, has climbed to $10-15 as a generation born in the late seventies and early eighties searches for nostalgia. Whether he is even around the game we once mystified is unknown. All we have left, is a recent comment from his advisor, and now super agent, Scott Boras. “I have seen a lot of talent get selected in the major league draft over the last 35 years. I have never seen anyone like Brien Taylor.”
Wayne G, Infinity Sports