Billy Taylor – 1997 UD Collector’s Choice

May 29, 2011

Everyone Was Rooting For Him, Until…

…he was a Met.

Billy was a great story when he first broke into the big leagues. And that rather much erased the memory of the first Billy Taylor to make the bigs – the infamous “Bollicky Bill” Taylor of the old American Association. Taylor ‘led’ a group of misfits, drunkards, ne’er-do-wells and social degenerates disguised as baseball players called the Pittsburgh Alleghenys  in 1883. They fought and drank their way to seventh place in that season, and it just wasn’t good for business. However, with talent levels straining to fill two, sometimes three, leagues, “Bollicky Bill” was sporadically employed until 1887.

This Billy was a second round January 1980 draftee by Texas. He played in the GCL, Asheville, Wausau, Burlington, Salem, Tulsa (3+ seasons over 4 years), Oklahoma City (2 1/2 seasons), Las Vegas, Durham, Greenville and Richmond before finally earning a shot in 1993 as a Rule V player with Toronto.

The story was always the same for Taylor – he had great stuff but was wild until he became a full-time reliever in Las Vegas in 1989. From 1991 to 1993, he was lights out in the Atlanta chain, but the Braves never called him up. Finally, he signed with Oakland and earned a big-league shot in 1994 at age 32. On April 5, Opening Day, he faced the Milwaukee Brewers and retired the side in order in the 7th – fanning Kevin Seitzer and Greg Vaughn and getting Turner Ward to fly out.

He had a decent year in low leverage situations, then sat out 1995 with an injury. He came back in 1996 and established himself as the closer for the A’s. He wasn’t lights out, but he wasn’t horrible and kept the job until mid-way through 1999.

The A’s were on the margins of the race, and knew that other clubs over-valued closers. The Mets were in the race big-time and needed to solidify the back end of the pen after John Franco was hurt. Even though they had four decent starters and four other good relievers in Benitez, Mahomes, Cook and Wendell, the Mets made a move for Taylor before the waiver deadline of August 1.

They send a washed-up Greg McMichael and a young, injury-prone pitcher to the A’s for the old ‘proven’ veteran.

That injury-prone youngster? Jason Isringhausen.

Oops.

Anyway, Taylor had pitched in over 800 professional baseball games. He’s heard boos before, sure. But he’d never been in a real pennant race in the bigs, and in New York to boot. Wags no doubt though the lanky, genial southern country boy couldn’t handle the Big Apple. But I think he was just done.

The A’s made off like bandits, because Taylor was a bit wobbly in July (four blown saves and a 7.50 ERA). The wobble became a full blown teeter soon. After three scoreless appearances, he botched two games against the Dodgers at Shea, then after three more scoreless games on the road he was totally creamed in his next home appearance against the Cards. From then on, he was simply a mop-up man, and rather useless to the Mets.

Taylor then hung on for two more seasons, pitching a few games in the bigs for the Rays and Pirates before calling it quits.

For many years, Taylor was a feel-good story – but as soon as he entered the lion’s den in New York no one cared about his perseverance in making the bigs. He was just fresh press fodder for the media.

It’s sad, but in a pennant race, performance matters.

 

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