Grave Story: Ross Youngs (1897-1927)

Here lies Ross Youngs, a Hall of Fame outfielder who spent his entire 10-year career with the New York Giants. He played for them from 1917-1926. It’s not Youngs’ fault that his career was as short as it was. He played his last game about four months after his 29th birthday, forced into early retirement by a kidney disease that would eventually kill him a couple of weeks after the 1927 World Series finished.

Look at any list of “unworthy Hall of Famers” and you’ll frequently find Youngs on it. To some extent, it’s understandable. Because his career was a mere 10 years (very short by Hall of Fame standards), his counting stats are far below the average HOF batter’s totals. His 1,491 hits are 154th among HOF batters, his 1,211 games are 167th and his 812 runs are 154th. However, his .322 batting average is 35th overall, ahead of the likes of Clemente, Puckett, Brett and Aaron. His .399 on-base percentage is 31st.

Ross Youngs (he was typically called “Young” during his playing days) was born in Shiner, Texas on April 10, 1897. He started playing baseball around San Antonio and was a high school football star too. He entered the ranks of minor-league ball when he joined Sherman of the Western Association in 1916. Playing all over the infield as well as some outfield, he hit a league-leading .362 and managed 195 hits in 137 games. He played for the Giants in Spring Training in 1917 but was sent to Rochester of the International League for development. He hit .357 there and ended up knocking another prized prospect, Pete Kilduff off the Giants roster. Giants manager John McGraw shipped Kilduff to the Chicago Cubs to bring up Youngs to the majors.

“Kilduff is the more finished product now, but he will never be more than a good ballplayer,” McGraw said in the spring of 1917. “If Young develops as I think he will he has it in him to be one of the great stars of the game.”

McGraw was right on both counts. Kilduff had a decent career that ended in 1921. Youngs was a sensation for the Giants almost from the onset, earning a position as one of McGraw’s favorite players. A week-long audition in 1917 saw him hit .346, putting him in the mix for the starting lineup in 1918. For the next decade, Youngs was a staple in the Giants’ batting order, with good reason. He only hit under .300 once in his career and had a high of .356 in 1924. He finished fifth in the Most Valuable Player race that season, hitting a career-high 10 home runs with 33 doubles and 12 triples.

Source: The Courier News, October 8, 1923.

The Giants won two World Series championships with Youngs in 1921 and 1922. Not only was Youngs an offensive sparkplug in the regular season those years (.327 and .331 batting average, respectively), but he batted over .300 in those World Series contests against the crosstown Yankees. In his 26 postseason games, Youngs slashed .286/.404/.363.

Youngs’ worst season came in 1925. He hit a career-low .264, which probably led to concerns that he was losing a step. He struggled the first month of the 1926 season with a .232 average at the end of April. He picked up steam as the season wore on, topping .330 by early July. The average started to slip after that, ending after 95 games played at .306. Youngs hit his last home run on July 31 against St. Louis, and he finished his career with an 0-for-3 appearance against the Cubs on August 10. Nobody knew it was his last game at the time, though.

Ross slashed .322/.399/.441 for his career. He stole 153 bases and scored 812 runs, and his 1491 hits include 236 doubles, 93 triples and 42 home runs. He drew 550 walks and struck out just 390 times in 5336 plate appearances. While his fielding percentage in right field is low at .953, he had 191 outfield assists, including 5 seasons with more than 20.

Bright’s disease is a kidney ailment that is called nephritis today. Someone suffering from it now could undergo dialysis or even have a kidney transplant if kidney failure set in. It was a much more lethal disease 100 years ago. It killed poet Emily Dickinson and former president Chester Alan Arthur, and in 1927, doctors began scrambling to keep it from killing Ross Youngs. He had left the Giants and went back to his home of San Antonio to receive treatment.

The year was touch and go for him. By March 8, his condition was improved. By March 26, a series of blood transfusions left him “resting well.” As late as April 15, Youngs was expressing hope that he could make it back to the Giants before the end of the season.

“I hope for Young’s sake and for the sake of baseball that his expectations will be fulfilled,” said McGraw in an AP report.

Youngs weight had dropped below 100 pounds during treatment but raised past 120 pounds by August. The reality had set in by that time that he would never play baseball again, reported a Waco, Texas newspaper, but his condition improved enough that he was allowed to leave his San Antonio hospital and return home.

Ross Youngs suffered a relapse on October 19, and he died on October 22, 1927. He was 30 years old and left behind a widow and a 2-year-old daughter named Caroline. He was buried at Mission Burial Park South in San Antonio. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1972.

This story originally ran on The Hall of Very Good blog.

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