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 30, 2014, 6:49 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras has been mentioned as a possible centerpiece in trade talks this week for top-tier starting pitchers like David Price and Jon Lester, but if Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is to be believed that was all speculation from the outside.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT
The 44-64 Astros could jump into this seller-friendly market before Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Houston is “looking to move” first baseman and designated hitter Chris Carter.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT
Now that it’s clear he can’t ramp up for 2014, the Mets have cleared Matt Harvey to throw.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
White Sox reliever Nate Jones has been on the disabled list with a back injury since the first week of the season, but now he’s got an even bigger problem.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
It’s been a rumor for a good while, but now it’s going where rumors go when they die.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The very essence of the trade deadline just played out on Twitter
Jul 30, 2014, 3:51 PM EDT
Injuries derailed what was a very promising career for Chavez while with the A’s, but he bounced back and got healthy enough to thrive in part-time roles for the Yankees and Diamondbacks.
Jul 30, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Felix Doubront made it clear that he wanted the Red Sox to either put him back into the starting rotation or trade him, and then he went out and had a terrible relief appearance that many took to mean he was trying to push a trade.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
A few minutes ago we thought this man could soon be a Fish. Now it seems unlikely. HAPPY TRADE DEADLINE!
Jul 30, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Zeid pitched well for the Astros as a 26-year-old rookie last season, but struggled mightily this season with a 6.97 ERA in 23 appearances.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
They’ve been rumored to be in on all the big names, but now it sounds as if they’re out.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Cleveland turned down Justin Masterson’s attempted contract extension offer back in spring training–balking at what seemed to be reasonable terms at the time–and now the Indians are trading the impending free agent to the Cardinals, according to Peter Gammons of MLB.com.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
And no mention of Lester because I legit thought he’d get traded in between the time we taped this and the time it went live.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy would probably already be in the majors to stay if not for blowing out his elbow last season, but now the former No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball is struggling while rehabbing in the minors.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
But the Padres may be playing hard to get.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT
Earlier this week Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talked about looking into the “mental component” of Pedro Alvarez’s throwing problems in an effort to get the third baseman back on track defensively. And now Alvarez is out of the lineup for a second straight day despite being healthy.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Serious allegations made against the current minor leaguer.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:27 PM EDT
A major reshaping of the Red Sox rotation could be afoot.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:03 PM EDT
Apparently, Gibson and Drysdale didn’t have the reputation of Gibson and Drysdale at the time.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com the Twins “really want to move” left fielder Josh Willingham before Thursday’s trade deadline, but a source tells him “I don’t think they’re getting any bites.”
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- There’s a “very good chance” the Red Sox trade Lackey and Lester 51
- Hey, Rube: Phillies pay dearly for Amaro’s misguided loyalty 76
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- Dodgers announce Vin Scully will return for 2015 season 50
- Jon Lester scratched Wednesday amid trade speculation 38
- Rays are “talking and willing” to trade ace lefty David Price; Cardinals and Dodgers interested 41
- Phillies wanted Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias from Dodgers for Cole Hamels 95
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