Eric Young Sr.

This article was written by Mike Cooney

“And the 3-2 pitch. Fly ball to deep left field — it’s mile high and it’s out of here!”1

Not the “shot heard round the world.”

But a shot that reverberated among the 80,000 plus fans that rose as one as Colorado Rockies TV play-by-play announcer Charlie Jones called the first Mile High Stadium home run for the first-year expansion Rockies.

A shot called by Rockies’ radio announcer Jeff Kingery with his signature home-run call: “The ball’s goin and it aint coming back.”2

A shot that launched the launching pad known as Mile High Stadium.

Despite an 0-2 start in New York against the Mets, Colorado fans anxiously awaited the Rockies’ April 9, 1993, Mile High debut against the Montreal Expos. After a scoreless top of the first inning, the bottom of the first started with Rockies second baseman Eric Young walking to the plate.

Young, Colorado’s sixth selection in the 1992 expansion draft, stepped to the plate to face Expos pitcher Kent Bottenfield. While many of the 80,000 fans were getting settled in, Young hit the historic first Colorado Rockies Mile High home run.

*Eric Orlando Young was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on May 18, 1967. His father, Otis, was a crane operator and his mother, Lucille, was an assistant to a school principal and a worker with special-needs children. Young credited his athletic abilities to his mother, whom he said was a great basketball player.3

Young was a multisport standout for New Brunswick High School. His memory of the first time he played baseball: “Playing stickball, 2 of 2, and spray-painting a box against the brick building. That was the first game. Must have been 5 or 6.”4

After high school, Young stayed in New Brunswick, enrolling at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, with a football scholarship.5 

Young became Eric Young Sr. on May 25, 1985, when his son, Eric Young Jr., was born to his high-school sweetheart. (They were never married.)6 Even after the birth of Eric Jr., Eric Sr. continued to be identified simply as Eric Young for most of his career. He later had another son, Dallas.

Young started his Rutgers athletic career in his freshman year (1985) as a wide receiver for the Scarlet Knights football team.7 While Rutgers shows him as a four-year wide receiver, a 2007 article in the Modesto Bee said, “Eric Young Sr. was a star defensive back and kick returner at Rutgers.”8

Young didn’t join the Scarlet Knights baseball team until the end of his sophomore year (1987). A two-time Atlantic 10 All-Conference selection as a center fielder, Young batted over .300 in each of his three seasons, with a career high of .337 in his senior year. When he graduated, EY, as he affectionately became known, was the team’s career leader in runs, triples, and stolen bases.9

Perhaps the hardest decision Young had to face while at Rutgers came during the summer of 1988. Playing for the New Jersey Pilots of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, he was selected to the league all-star team. The all-stars were scheduled to play the United States Olympic team in late August.10 Scouts from every major-league team would be in attendance.

Playing the Olympic team would give Young a chance to show the major-league scouts what he could do. But it didn’t happen. The game was played in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, as scheduled. (The Olympic team gave the All-Stars a 19-1 drubbing.)  But Young “was on the Rutgers campus fielding questions, not fly balls, and having his picture taken with a football helmet, not a baseball cap.”11

With the baseball opportunity of his life conflicting with the Rutgers football team’s first practice, Young had a decision to make — play baseball against the Olympians or continue to play football for Rutgers. Young had been allowed to play baseball in the spring and miss spring football practice. But with a new season looming and the first day of practice coinciding with the baseball game, Rutgers football coach Dick Anderson decided that if Young was going to play football for the Scarlet Knights, he would be at practice.12 Young didn’t have to make the decision. Coach Anderson made it for him.

The 21-year-old Young said, “If it was up to me, I would have gone and played baseball. ... I could go to everything during the day at camp and then miss the meetings at night. But I don’t have any grudges. My first obligation is football.”13

As a senior, Young considered both professional football and baseball as the next step in his athletic career. He said, “I wonder where I will be two years down the road, but it doesn’t worry me. ... I have to work hard now to put myself in position to make things happen. You only have so many years to play sports, that is why you should play whatever you can.”14

In the spring of 1989 Young graduated from Rutgers with a degree in business management.15 He also received the Coursen Award, presented annually to the senior class’s outstanding male athlete.16

(Further honors included his election to the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999,17 and induction into the New Jersey Sports Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2012.18)

While Young was deciding whether to pursue a football or a baseball career, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 43rd round of the June 1989 amateur draft. Ten days later he signed with the Dodgers.19

Young quickly moved through the Dodgers’ minor-league system. Starting with the Dodgers’ team in the rookie Gulf Coast League in 1989, he moved to Class-A Vero Beach in 1990 and to Double-A San Antonio in 1991. At San Antonio he set a Dodgers Double-A record with 70 stolen bases.20 In 1992, after 94 games at Triple-A Albuquerque, Young was promoted to the major leagues.21

Young’s apprenticeship lasted 414 games over parts of four years. During that time he hit .303 with a .391 on-base percentage. He hit 10 home runs.22

But power wasn’t the reason the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Young was promoted to the big leagues. With the bulk of his minor-league playing time (333 games) at second base, he provided potential speed (217 stolen bases) combined with a strong on-base percentage and, in spite of his 20 errors in 1992, a developing second-base defense.

In his major-league debut, on July 30, 1992, against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium, Young helped Los Angeles to a 6-5 victory. His RBI single off Padres pitcher Mike Maddux in the seventh inning tied the game at 5-5. In the 10th, he moved Brett Butler from first to third with another single (he was 2-for-4 in the game), and Butler scored the winning run on a fly ball by Todd Benzinger.

For the 1992 Dodgers, Young played in 43 games, starting 35, and finished with a .258/.300/.288 line in 132 at-bats, one home run and six stolen bases.

After the season, the Dodgers chose not to protect Young in the expansion draft designed to help the brand-new Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies fill their rosters. The Rockies chose him with their sixth pick, 11th overall.

During spring training in 1993, Young impressed Rockies manager Don Baylor as a defensive second baseman. His first at-bat, and the first in Rockies history, came in New York, against the Mets. At 2:17 P.M. on Monday, April 5, 1993, Young stepped to the plate to face Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden. With a 2-and-1 count, he bunted down the third-base line. Mets catcher Todd Hundley grabbed the ball and threw Young out at first base.23

After the game, Young explained: “(The bunt) was my idea. It was a 2-and-1 count and I thought he was going to lay a fastball in there. HoJo (Howard Johnson) took a couple of steps back so I knew if I got it down on the grass I would beat it out.”24 He didn’t.

Andres Galarraga got the Rockies’ first hit with a second-inning single. With two outs in the third inning, Young got the second, a single to center field. He quickly set another Rockies first by stealing second base.

Four days later, on April 9, 1993, the Rockies returned to Denver and to their Mile High Stadium home. As the Central New Jersey Home News described it: “The halls of the state capitol were empty and the streets were empty as baseball fans decked out in their best purple, black, and silver team colors came to watch the new team play ball.”25

Young did not disappoint the fans. First, there was his 380-foot leadoff home run to left-center field, and then three more hits to finish 4-for-4 — the first four-hit game for the Rockies. He also had two RBIs in the Rockies’ 11-4 victory.

After hitting the Rockies’ first home run at Mile High Stadium, Young did not hit another home run — home or away — until the final home game of the 1993 season, on September 26 against the Cincinnati Reds, when he hit two in a Rockies victory. In effect he bookended the Mile High season. Young’s final 1993 stats included a .269/.355/.353 line with the three home runs, 42 RBIs and 42 stolen bases. Young struggled in the field, making a team-high 15 errors at second base and 3 more when he was moved to the outfield.

Young’s 1994 season started with a bang. With three home runs in the first month, he was on the way to his best season. However, with continued fielding woes and a collapsing batting average, dipping all the way to .196 on May 20, he was benched for much of the early part of the season.26 But with other Rockies also struggling at the plate, Young played in 90 games in the strike-shortened season, mostly in left field. He finished with a .272/.378/.430 line with 7 home runs, 30 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases. Young continued to be one of the hardest players to strike out, finishing with 38 walks and only 17 strikeouts. On the defensive side, there was great improvement; Young reduced his errors to two for the season.

During the first half of the 1995 season, Young was relegated to pinch-hitting and pinch-running. Then, on June 23, when he was hitting an anemic .189, starting second baseman Jason Bates was injured. Despite his earlier fielding problems at second base, Young was reinserted into the starting lineup.27 He responded with a .317/.404/.473 line with 35 stolen bases, 6 home runs, and a league-high 9 triples.

After that stalwart 1995 season, Young had an even better 1996. His batting average fell below .300 only once — for two days — during the entire season. He was selected for his only All-Star Game and won the National League Silver Slugger award for second basemen. Perhaps the highlight of the season came on June 30 against the Dodgers when, in the third inning, he walked and stole second, third, and home. For the entire game, he stole six bases.

Young finished the season with a National League-high 53 stolen bases and a .324/.393/.421 line with 8 home runs and 74 RBIs.

The 1997 season brought another change to Young’s career. Between seasons he had pushed for a rich three-year contract. Instead, he wound up with a one-year contract, albeit with a $2 million raise, to $3.2 million. While disappointed that he did not get a three-year deal, he generated a 118-game slash line of .282/.363/.408 along with 32 stolen bases and 45 RBIs before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 19 for pitcher Pedro Astacio. Rockies manager Don Baylor suggested that upcoming contract negotiations might have influenced the trade, saying,“I didn’t have a checkbook, so I couldn’t pay him.”28

For his part, Young commented, “I was a little surprised at first, considering the history and everything with me being a Rockie. ... I thought I would be over there for a long time. ... It just shows that you never know, but I’m happy to be coming back to the Dodgers.”29

Young’s 180 stolen bases for the Rockies were still, as of 2018, a Rockies franchise record.30

In his first game back with the Dodgers, Young went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a stolen base. For the remainder of the season, he drove in another 16 runs with 13 stolen bases in 37 games.

Young’s reunion with the Dodgers, was dampened by an 0-for-20 hitless streak that coincided with the death of his best friend, 30-year-old Dwight Giles. Young would not use Giles’ death as an excuse for his batting slump. Instead, in talking about his friend and his batting slump, Young said: “He was like a brother. ... That’s not an excuse. Those are things you have to deal with as a professional.”31

On September 25, the Dodgers went to Denver to take on the Rockies for the first time since the trade. On what was already an emotional day for Young, when he stepped to the plate for the first time, the Colorado Rockies fans gave him a standing ovation. Young raised his batting helmet to the crowd, stepped back up to the plate, and hit a single.32

After the season Young became a free agent for the first time, and was rewarded by the Dodgers with a four-year agreement that paid him $4.5 million per year.

Two months into his 1998 season, Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray recognized Young’s value to the Dodgers: “What every dynasty team in history needed was that pest in the No. 1 spot, the leadoff hitter, the guy who opened the game for you. ... His job was to be a nuisance, a tough out, a bat manipulator, a schemer, as annoying as a mosquito in a dark room. ... He harassed the pitcher more than he harassed him. Every at bat was a poker game.”33

Murray went on to say: “The Dodgers have this all-important beat-you ballplayer in their leadoff spot — Eric Young. ... Eric Young can run. He can hit, but he’s no Tony Gwynn. He can field, but he’s no Bill Mazeroski. But he can beat you.”34

Young told Murray he would like his initials — EY — to mean “Every Year a Headache” for opposing pitchers.35

For the next two years, Young did his best to be that headache. In 1,047 plate appearances, he had 257 hits, 108 walks, and was hit by a pitch 10 times, while striking out only 58 times. Each time he reached base he became a threat to run. His threat to run often gave subsequent batters better pitches to hit.

Still, Young was again on the trading block. On December 12, 1999, in a cost-cutting move by the Dodgers, he was traded along with pitcher Ismael Valdez to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Terry Adams and two minor leaguers.

The trade to the Cubs reunited Young with manager Don Baylor. Each expressed pleasure with the trade. Baylor commented: “EY will bat leadoff for us. He was a very exciting player for me in Colorado. He brings to us what this club needed, one with speed.”36

Young commented: “I think I bring excitement. I’m the type of leadoff guy who can jumpstart the offense. That’s my main thing. … With (Baylor) you know what he wants. You can talk to (him) about anything. That is very important to a player.”37

With two years remaining on the contract he signed with the Dodgers, Young became the sparkplug the Cubs were hoping for. In 2000 and 2001 he collected 348 hits and 105 walks. He scored 196 runs and stole 85 bases, including a career-high 54 in 2000.

After the 2001 season, Young again was granted free agency. Whether it was due to the Cubs not making the playoffs in either of Young’s two years with them, or a fear that his performance would diminish as he got older, or simply that the Milwaukee Brewers offered him a two-year contract at $2 million per year, he did not re-sign with the Cubs.

Instead, Young signed a two-year agreement with the Brewers. Brewers general manager Dean Taylor said one of the team’s goals “was getting some contact hitters to reduce the number of strikeouts, and we’ve done that with Eric Young.”38

While there was some concern whether the Brewers would get their money’s worth from the 34-year-old Young, Brewers manager Davey Lopes had no such concerns, saying, “When you have a guy at the top of your order who can do the things that ‘EY’ can, it sets a tone for your whole ballclub.”39

Young, who had earlier promised GM Taylor that he would break the Brewers’ stolen-base record of 54, said he was looking forward to working with Lopes and first-base coach Dave Collins, each a record-setting basestealer as a player. Young felt that with their insight and guidance he could continue to learn and use his basestealing abilities to an even greater extent.40

Instead of breaking the Brewers’ stolen-base record, Young stole just 31 bases in 138 games for the 2002 Brewers. While apparently beginning to slow down, he continued to hit at a .280 pace with a .338 on-base percentage.

Toward the end of the season Young reflected on his rookie season with the Dodgers while discussing the help and coaching he was giving Brewers standout rookie Alex Sanchez. Young told Sanchez, “I made a lot of mistakes. Basically, you’re so aggressive and you’ve got so much energy. ... Sometimes you try to be aggressive at the wrong time and it’s something you hope a person will learn and adjust to. And become even better.”41 Perhaps a hint to his coaching future.

The 2003 season became another split season for Young: another trade. He played in 109 games for the Brewers before being sent to the San Francisco Giants for a minor leaguer on August 19. The Giants were in need of a replacement for the injured Ray Durham. Young said he was happy to be joining the Giants: “I just want to go over there and get to that playoff level again. I’d only experienced that one time in my career and that is what it is all about.”42 For the Brewers his batting average had slipped to .260 but he hit a career-high 15 home runs. However, he had only 25 stolen bases, far from the Brewers’ record and his fewest since 1994.

While the Giants did make the playoffs in 2003, Young did not supply the spark they anticipated. Instead, in 26 games he hit just .197 with 3 stolen bases. Looking toward 2004, the Giants held a $3 million team option with a $1 million buyout if the option was not exercised.43

The Giants chose not to exercise their option, and Young became a free agent. In January 2004, he signed with the Texas Rangers, making the Rangers his sixth major-league team.

The 2004 season was a mixed success for Young. While he hit a strong .288 with an on-base percentage of .377, he had only 14 stolen bases in 104 games. Young was no longer a “terror on the bases.” After the season, he was again granted free agency.

On December 9, 2004, Young agreed to a one-year, $850,000 deal with the San Diego Padres, with an $850,000 team option for the 2006 season or a $150,000 buyout.44 Young’s Padres career was doomed to fail. On April 7, 2005, during the Padres home opener, Young, then 37, was hurt making a leaping catch off the center-field wall. The Padres placed him on the 60-day disabled list with a dislocated right shoulder.45 Young did not rejoin the Padres until three months later,46 and played in just 56 games during the season. The Padres chose not to exercise their option and paid him the $150,000 buyout. Then, two weeks later, they re-signed him for one year at $700,000.47

On December 10, 2005, Young married Beyonka Jackson in Harris, Texas.48 In spring training for what would turn out to be Young’s final season, an emotional highlight occurred. The Padres were playing the Colorado Rockies. Young was selected to take the lineup card to the umpires before the game. When he got to the umpires, he found he knew the representative for the Rockies. It was a 21-year-old infielder in the Rockies’ farm system by the name of Eric Young Jr., who had been brought up just to play that game against his father’s team.49

“It was overwhelming,” Young recalled. “He was wearing a Rockies uniform, a team I used to play for. We were both on cloud nine.” During the game, Eric Jr. hit a triple. Eric Sr. forgot he was on the opposing team and stood and cheered his son.50

Then came the real season. Young played in just 56 games for the Padres, batting just .203 with only 8 stolen bases. On August 1, the Padres waived Young for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.51

On August 11, the Texas Rangers signed Young to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Oklahoma.52 On the 25th they called him up.53 In his first game for the Rangers Young went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs. These were the last base hits of his major-league career. Young played in only four games for the Rangers and got just the two hits in 10 at-bats. After the season the Rangers released him.

Young did not sign another playing contract for the 2007 season. On September 12, 2008, he signed a one-day contract and officially retired as a member of the Colorado Rockies.54

In 1,730 games for seven teams in a 15-year career, Young had a .283/.359/.390 line with 1,731 hits and 465 stolen bases.

With his playing days behind him, Young embarked on the next phase of his career — first as an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight from 2007 to 2009, and then in 2010 as minor-league outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Houston Astros. In 2011, Young was back in the major leagues when he was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks to be their first-base coach. Young continued at first base for the Diamondbacks for the 2012 season.

It was also in 2012 that Young became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He received just one vote and was dropped from future ballots.

In 2014 Young returned to the Rockies, this time as their first-base coach with additional oversight of the outfield and baserunning instruction. He continued with the Rockies for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He was let go after the 2016 season as part of a Rockies housecleaning after the resignation of manager Walt Weiss.55

Even after being fired by the Rockies, Young was considered in the Colorado Rockies’ search for a manager to replace Weiss. He was noted for his development of both young and veteran players as well as having the “Colorado culture” as both a player and a coach.56

Young’s career in baseball was prolonged when the Atlanta Braves hired him before the 2018 season as their first-base coach and outfield instructor.57

Last revised: April 1, 2018


This biography appears in "Major League Baseball A Mile High: The First Quarter Century of the Colorado Rockies" (SABR, 2018), edited by Bill Nowlin and Paul T. Parker.

 

Notes

1 https://youtube.com/watch?v=akvc44D-B6g.

2 Will Petersen, “Kingery’s Role Reduced as Rox Announcer,” Denver Post, July 14, 2009. https://neighbors.denverpost.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12834438&start=25 The words “goin” and “aint” are as rendered. 

3 Thanks to Colorado Rockies team historian Paul Parker and Eric Young for providing this information.

4 Jimmy Greenfield, “Just Asking,” Chicago Tribune, June 8, 2004: 33-20.   

5 Jack Curry, “A Tough Decision for Rutgers Player,” New York Times, August 23, 1988. https://nytimes.com/1988/08/22/sports/a-tough-decision-for-rutgers-playe....

6 Salina (Kansas) Journal Sun, June 11, 2006: 51.

7 “Former Rutgers Player Eric Young to Be Inducted Into New Jersey Sports Writers’ Hall of Fame,” https://admin.scarletknights.com/news/2011/11/28/Former_Rutgers_Baseball....

8 Brian VanderBeek, “Local Tales Connect East, West Coasts,” Modesto (California) Bee, April 17, 2007. https://modbee.com/latest-news/article3091478.html.

9 “Former Rutgers Player Eric Young.”

10 Curry.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 https://m.mlb.com/atl/roster/coach/124695/eric-young.

16 “Former Rutgers Player Eric Young.”

17 https://livingstonalumni.org/rutgers-athletics-hall-fame.

18 “Former Rutgers Player Eric Young.”

19 https://baseball-reference.com/players/y/younger01.shtml

20 Matt Romanoski, “Young, Rumer Honored,” Bridgewater (New Jersey) Courier-News, September 9, 1991: 21. The newspaper incorrectly reported him as having 71 stolen bases.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Brian Kilpatrick, “Rockies Retro: Eric Young,” https://purplerow.com/2009/2/28/775144/rockies-retro-eric-young.

24 John Bruns, “Young Makes History as First Rockie Batter,” Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick), April 6, 1993: 19.

25 Ibid.

26 Kilpatrick. 

27 Ibid.

28 Kilpatrick.

29 “Young: Comes Home Again,” Central New Jersey Home News, August 20, 1997: 20.

30 “Colorado Rockies Manager Search: What About Eric Young Sr.?” https://foxsports.com/mlb/story/colorado-rockies-manager-search-what-abo....

31 Steve Springer, “Death of Former Teammate Hurts Young,” Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1997: 47.

32 Associated Press, “Piazza’s Blast Sparks L.A.,” South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), September 27, 1997: 34.

33 Jim Murray, “E.Y. the Type of Player Teams Rally Around,” Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1998: 130.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 John Nadel, “Ricketts Involved in Five-Player Trade,” Jackson (Tennessee) Sun, December 13, 1999: 19.

37 Phil Rogers, “Reunited (With Baylor) and It Feels So Good (to Young),” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1999: 30.

38 Greg Giesen, “More Moves Brewing,” Racine (Wisconsin) Journal Times, January 23, 2002: 25.

39 Drew Olson, “Young Has Feet Set on Steal Record,” Fond Du Lac (Wisconsin) Commonwealth Reporter, February 22, 2002: 15.

40 Ibid. The article did not mention that Tommy Harper had 73 stolen bases for the Seattle Pilots, the Brewers’ predecessors, in 1969.

41 “Crew has 2003 1 — 2 Punch Set,” Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Daily Citizen, September 11, 2002: 15.

42 “Brewers Send Eric Young to Giants,” Mattoon (Illinois) Journal Gazette, August 20, 2003: 14.

43 Ibid.

44 Associated Press, “Baseball Notes,” Racine (Wisconsin) Journal Times, November 22, 2005: 32.

45 “Shoulder Injury Puts Young Out 2 Months,” Indianapolis Star, April 9, 2005: 49.

46 Associated Press, “Baseball Notes,” Racine (Wisconsin) Journal Times, November 22, 2005: 32.

47 Ibid.

48 https://search.ancestry.com/search/collections/TXmarriageindex/13540126.

49 Tim Wendel, “As Father’s Day Approaches ... ,” Salina (Kansas) Journal, June 11, 2006: 51.

50 Ibid.

51 “Padres Release Young, Welcome Walker,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 2, 2006: 17.

52 “Rangers Sign Journeyman Eric Young,” Orlando Sentinel, August 12, 2006: C5.

53 “Baseball Briefs,” Sioux City Journal, Aug 26, 2006: 19.

54 Kilpatrick.

55 Patrick Saunders, “Rockies Don’t Renew Contracts of 4 Coaches, Including Tom Runnells and Eric Young,” Denver Post. October 8, 2016. https://denverpost.com/2016/10/8/rockies-dont-renew-contracts.

56 “Colorado Rockies Manager Search.”

57 https://mlb.com/braves/news/braves-announce-2018-coaching-staff/c-261316796.