This feature also appears in The Times of Trenton and on nj.com
Signing a free-agent contract with the Mets during the most tumultuous period in the franchise’s history may not appear to be a wise career move.
However, The Sporting News did not have to rank Chris Young eighth on its recent list of 20 smartest athletes for anyone even vaguely familiar with the former Princeton University two-sport star to see that he is no dummy.
The fact Young scored 1,300 on his SATs and completed a Princeton thesis entitled: “The Integration of Professional Baseball and Racial Attitudes in America: A Quantitative Study in Stereotype Change’’ represents only a small part of his range.
In September of 2000 at the age of 21, Young signed a $1.65 million contract after being drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The contract was $1.1 million more than the Pirates initially offered and equaled in cash value the deal agreed to by the team’s first-round pick, Sean Burnett.
Only number eight, you say?
At the time, the 6-foot-10 Young also was arguably the top basketball player in the Ivy League and a certain NBA draft pick. But when Young officially signed with the Pirates he immediately was ruled ineligible to play his senior season at Princeton.
The NCAA eased its rules regarding amateurism in 1974, but the Ivy League never did follow suit and its bylaws stipulated that once Young signed professionally with the Pirates he no longer was an amateur and his athletic career at Princeton was over.
“No regrets whatsoever,’’ Young says. “I was forced to make a decision at the time regarding an eligibility system that is archaic with rules that serve no purpose. I was put in a position to make a decision and there is no doubt it was the right decision.’’
Since making his major league debut with the Texas Rangers in 2004, the right-hander Young is 48-34 (.585) with a 3.80 ERA and has earned more than $16 million over his career.
Only eighth? Really?
In December, Young signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract ($4.5 million if incentives are reached) with the Mets and will report to spring training in Port St. Lucie with the rest of the team’s pitchers and catchers Thursday.
While no one can dare question Young’s intelligence, hitching his star to a struggling Mets franchise embroiled in scandal may eventually test his patience, not to mention his sanity.
The Mets and owner Fred Wilpon are facing a potentially devastating lawsuit of between $300 million and $1 billion filed by a trustee representing the victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
The suit claims Wilpon, Saul B. Katz, Sterling Equities and its partners, including Mets chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon, not only knew of the Madoff scam but profited from it.
If trustee Irving H. Picard can prove those claims on behalf of the victims, he could seek to recover $1 billion and the Wilpons may be forced to sell the club and its Citi Field lease, valued by Forbes at $858 million. Other experts put the valuation much less after factoring in the Mets’ debt load and what the Wilpons have borrowed against the team over the years.
“What is going on (with ownership) has no impact on me or what I need to do,’’ Young said. “I need to focus on myself, being healthy and prepared to go out and do my job. The situation is unfortunate, but it will have no bearing whatsoever on how I am going to perform this year.’’
Coming off three injury-plagued years, which included an Albert Pujols line drive off his face in 2008 and persistent trouble with his right shoulder, Young was limited to just four starts with the San Diego Padres late last season and has made only 36 starts since being named a National League All-Star in 2007.
“The injuries were frustrating, but I can’t control the past,’’ Young said. “Every time there was a setback it was another opportunity for me to persevere. Hopefully I can put this whole bad stretch behind me and it will turn out to be just a tiny blip on my career.’’
With a strong finish to 2010 to build on, a healthy Young said he has been guaranteed by general manager Sandy Alderson and new manager Terry Collins that, barring further injury, he is guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation.
“They made that clear and that is why I signed with the Mets,’’ Young said. “It’s not up for debate. Unless I am hurt one of those spots is mine regardless of spring training performance. That said my goal is to not go in there comfortable. I am ready to work. I’ve been able to strengthen the shoulder between my physical therapy program and accelerating my throwing and I am excited for spring training. All things considered the Mets were the best fit.’’