Dec 10, 2013, 2:20 PM EDT
1. I honestly thought he retired five years ago.
2. Mark Prior is still only 33 years old.
The second of those bits is even more shocking than the first. He is STILL only 33? If Mark Prior had stayed healthy, he would only now be signing a seven-year, $190 million deal with the Mariners or somebody. Baseball can be an extremely cruel game.
Prior probably should have won the Cy Young Award in 2003, when he was just 22 years old. The award went to Eric Gagne because it was one of those periodic years when the voters fall in love with relief pitching all over again. Gagne had a superb year for a closer … but not markedly different from John Smoltz that same year, Trevor Hoffman in 1998 or Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland this year. Prior pitched more than twice as many innings and was significantly more valuable.
Anyway, people had to figure Prior would win plenty of Cy Young Awards. Here are the greatest pitching performances since World War II for pitchers 22 or younger:
1. Dwight Gooden, 1985, 24-4, 1.53 ERA, league-leading 276 Ks.
2. Bert Blyleven, 1973, 20-17, 9 shutouts, 325 innings pitched.
3. Mark Fidrych, 1976, 19-9, league leading 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games.
4. Vida Blue, 1971, 24-8, league-leading 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts, Cy and MVP winner.
5. Larry Dierker, 1969, 20-13, 2.33 ERA, 305 innings, 20 complete games.
6. Sudden Sam McDowell, 1965, 17-11, league-leading 2.18 ERA, 325 strikeouts.
7. Mark Prior, 2003, 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts.
8. Frank Tanana, 1975, 16-9, 2.62 ERA, league-leading 269 strikeouts.
9. Bret Saberhagen, 1985, 20-6, 2.87 ERA, Cy Young winner.
10. Frank Tanana, 1976, 19-10, 2.43 ERA, 261 strikeouts.
Of this list, only Blyleven went on to a Hall of Fame career. Tanana, who is on the list twice, blew out his arm and reinvented himself as a soft-tossing lefty. Dwight Gooden, Sam McDowell and Vida Blue all dealt with various demons and fell a few steps short of greatness. Larry Dierker had an up and down career, and Bret Saberhagen was alternately brilliant and injured.
Then, Mark Fidrych and Mark Prior belong to the same club, the heartbreak club. They each had one glorious year in the Major Leagues. Their bodies would not hold up for another. Fidrych felt his arm go dead in the middle of the next season. Prior had trouble with his achilles tendon the next year — people would always suspect it was his elbow and the Cubs just didn’t want to admit it. In 2005 he was pitching quite well and he got hit by a batted ball that smashed his elbow. In 2006 the Cubs announced that he had a “loose shoulder,” which does not seem like a medical term but Mark Prior was never even a decent Major League pitcher again.
Lots of people blame overwork for the fall of both Fidrych and Prior, and that does make some sense. Fidrych in particular was abused — from May 15 to August 29 that year he made 22 starts and pitched 198 innings. Quick math will tell you, he AVERAGED nine innings for those 22 starts. This is in part because he pitched 11 innings four times during the stretch and 10 innings once. It was pretty close to criminal.
Prior’s overuse was not nearly as pronounced, but people did notice even at the time that Dusty Baker was having Prior (and fellow phenom Kerry Wood) throw a lot of pitches. In September of 2003, during the pennant run, Prior threw 131, 129, 109, 124, 131 and 133 pitches in his six starts. It’s interesting: None of those were complete games. Even now, there is much disagreement about pitch counts and how best to protect young pitcher’s arms and so on. I guess the infuriating part with the Cubs was that there seemed no visible effort whatsoever to protect Prior’s arm. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, but you sort of wished they would have at least made a show of it.
When Prior was young and right, he was all but unhittable. He had a fastball he could pump up into the high 90s and his better pitch was a curveball that was like setting the phaser to stun. His curve would just leave Major League hitters frozen — sometimes it seemed like they were still standing at the plate long after Prior had reached the dugout. He walked just 50 batters in his amazing season.
His effort to come back has been both touching and sad. Anyone can understand: He was destined to become one of the best pitchers in baseball history, and he had it taken away from him, and he had trouble accepting it. From Tennessee to Iowa, from Orange County to Oklahoma City, from Tampa to Scranton to Pawtucket to Louisville he chased ghosts, hoping against hope for some part of himself to return. I imagine that at times he snapped off the old curveball or fired a fastball that hopped a bit, and he found himself believing that he would come all the way back. Then there would be more pain.
The Chicago Tribune on Tuesday had a three paragraph note acknowledging Prior’s official retirement. The first few words were “Former Cubs Phenom Mark Prior.” And sadly, those are the last words too.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:19 PM EDT
Career minor leaguer Jake Smolinski got a chance in Texas because of the Rangers’ never-ending injuries and took advantage by hitting .389 in 11 games, but now he’s headed to their crowded disabled list with a bone bruise in his foot.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
No word on whether the Dodgers are one of them.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Presumably enough time has passed for some of the animosity to fade, but Ortiz’s at-bats will definitely be worth watching tonight.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:02 PM EDT
Acquired from the Rockies yesterday for cash considerations, left-hander Chris Capuano will join the Yankees’ rotation and make his debut Saturday versus the Blue Jays.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:14 PM EDT
Tonight makes sense. Yesterday’s benching still makes none.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
McGuire was the 11th overall pick in 2010 and his pro career got off to a good start, but he’s struggled against more experience competition and has an ERA above 5.00 between Double-A and Triple-A.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Issues caused by pre-existing injuries could lead to more disagreements, such as the one between Brady Aiken and the Astros that was played out on a public stage.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT
At age 41 he’s at risk to break down, but Colon has a 2.98 ERA in his last 12 starts with a 62/14 K/BB ratio and .217 opponents’ batting average in 85 innings.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Greg Maddux was a magician on the mound, and now he’s going to the Hall of Fame, writes Joe Posnanski.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT
[but watch that bat-flippin', buddy]
Jul 25, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Rollins also has the ability to block any potential trade, so even if contending teams think having him locked into place for 2015 adds to their interest level it may be a moot point.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
They are obviously deserving of induction, but their induction also serves some political ends too.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Greg Maddux looked like a guy who should be riding a Metra commuter train to his 9-to-5 job in the Loop, maybe sneaking out later to catch a Cubs game and have a few beers at Wrigley Field.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
OK, we’ll just accept that you have not at least talked about taking one of the few options you have regarding Howard, Ruben.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Kyle Gibson has had an up-and-down first full season for the Twins and now he may wind up on the disabled list with a back injury.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:38 AM EDT
He’s a double threat: bad and expensive.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
After a huge spring training that won him the Mariners’ starting shortstop job Brad Miller has struggled mightily, hitting .205 with a .599 OPS and 74/25 K/BB ratio in 86 games.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:57 AM EDT
Injuries are mounting for the first place Giants.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:34 AM EDT
A great, great ballplayer seems to be in denial about his career being over.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
With Joakim Soria watching from the sidelines, the Tigers embattled closer shuts down one of the best offenses in baseball.
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