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.
Sep 19, 2014, 7:17 AM EDT
It’s not dark yet for the Brewers, but it’s getting there. It’s absolutely pitch black for the A’s, though.
Sep 18, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Rizzo won the award in recognition of his community work with pediatric cancer patients.
Sep 18, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
That’s right: for the 2,559th time, Barry Bonds is gonna walk.
Sep 18, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
We learned late last week that Wally Backman will join the Mets coaching staff on Friday to finish out the season. Now there’s a chance that he could remain in the major leagues to begin 2015.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
After snapping an 0-for-28 hitless streak last night, Derek Jeter homered at Yankee Stadium tonight for the first time all season.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:58 PM EDT
Stanton suffered facial fractures and dental damage when he was hit in the face by a fastball last Thursday.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT
It’s possible Zimmerman could be activated from the disabled list as soon as this weekend.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Ramirez has missed back-to-back starts with an elbow strain.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton rejoined the Angels’ lineup Tuesday after sitting out 10 games with a right shoulder injury, but he missed last night’s game and is out of the lineup again tonight with more shoulder problems.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT
Hudson made it back to the majors this month for the first time since June 26, 2012.
Sep 18, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is still a long way from pitching in the majors again, but he’s very close to picking up a baseball for the first time since his Tommy John surgery on May 16.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Arenado has taken a strong step forward during his sophomore season in the majors, batting .287/.328/.500 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI over 111 games.
Sep 18, 2014, 6:08 PM EDT
“Good news, but not as good as it could have been.”
Sep 18, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
Khalil Greene was a first round pick compared to Cal Ripken. Then he was a decent and at times excellent Major League shortstop. Then he disappeared.
Sep 18, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
When you’re mocked by the auto-complete function, you’re pretty much mocked by everything.
Sep 18, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Wade LeBlanc is taking his place, but don’t worry.
Sep 18, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Perez had a sub-2.00 ERA before recent problems.
Sep 18, 2014, 4:02 PM EDT
It’s like it’s happening in slow motion and every A’s fan is yelling “nnnnnoooooooo!”
Sep 18, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Pedro Florimon is not a starting-caliber shortstop because he can’t hit, but his defense is good enough to make him a decent utility man at age 27.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
In pinstripes no less.
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 0
- It certainly looks like Barry Bonds’ criminal conviction is going to be overturned 21
- VIDEO: Derek Jeter hits first home run at Yankee Stadium this season 6
- Ron Washington claims he resigned because he cheated on his wife 86
- No, baseball does not need to “announce a domestic violence policy ASAP” 52
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 48
- Video: Rusney Castillo notches his first major league hit 7
- Michael Wacha cleared to return Saturday vs. Reds 2
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (90)
- Ron Washington claims he resigned because he cheated on his wife (87)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)