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.
Mar 14, 2014, 8:37 AM EDT
This hit the news two weeks ago, but I missed it because I was derping around Florida. It appears that no resolution has been announced yet, however, so it’s still an operative controversy, as we in the controversy business say. A Texas-based foundation — The Braden Aboud Memorial Foundation — has been in negotiations with…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:32 PM EDT
Reds right-hander Mat Latos will take a significant step tomorrow in his recovery from February surgery on his left knee, as AJ Cassavell of MLB.com reports that he’s scheduled to throw batting practice for the first time this spring. Latos, who is also coming back from a cleanup procedure on his elbow in October, was…
Mar 13, 2014, 9:28 PM EDT
The Dodgers recently signed Cuban infielder Erisbel Arruebarrena to a five-year, $25 million contract. The 23-year-old reported to Dodgers camp today and was presented with his jersey, as you’ll see in this picture that was posted to the team’s official Twitter account: Arr-ru-eh-BAHR-ena: http://t.co/3SqiJu5TKy— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 13, 2014 Now that’s how you…
Mar 13, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
If the Rockies have any chance of competing for a playoff spot this season, they will need star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to stay healthy. That’s why they aren’t messing around right now. Tulowitzki left last night’s Cactus League game against the Diamondbacks after he was hit in the left leg with a pitch. While X-rays…
Mar 13, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Royals have agreed to a minor league deal with veteran right-hander Brett Tomko. This confirms a report from John Walk of the York Dispatch. Tomko turns 41 in April and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 as a member of the Rangers, but he was reportedly throwing…
Mar 13, 2014, 6:28 PM EDT
We learned last month that the Mets and Rays had been in touch with the Mariners about a trade for infielder Nick Franklin, but CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Orioles are also interested. Baltimore would be a logical fit for Franklin, as Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop, Jemile Weeks, and Alexi Casilla are the…
Mar 13, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras‘ recovery from last year’s ankle surgery has gone much more slowly than expected and has recently led to hamstring problems as well, and today the Cardinals optioned the 22-year-old stud outfield prospect to minor-league camp. That means Taveras will begin the season at Triple-A–and possibly on the Triple-A disabled list–after initially having at…
Mar 13, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
Jurickson Profar still hasn’t been cleared to play defense because of a shoulder injury and now the Rangers infielder has another problem to deal with: T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports that he had four wisdom teeth removed today and is expected to be sidelined for 3-5 days. Profar was already cutting it kind of close…
Mar 13, 2014, 4:28 PM EDT
Schroeder: What do you mean Craig Calcaterra wasn’t so great? Lucy: He never got his picture on bubblegum cards, did he? Have you ever seen his picture on a bubblegum card? Hmmm? How can you say someone is great who’s never had his picture on bubblegum cards? Schroeder: Good grief. Take that, Lucy: This awesomeness…
Mar 13, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Good news from Mariners camp, as 21-year-old top prospect Taijuan Walker resumed throwing off a mound today after being shut down with shoulder inflammation last month. Walker threw a 25-pitch bullpen session and afterward told Greg Johns of MLB.com that he “had a big smile on my face” and “today was a big relief.” It’s…
Mar 13, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT
The Toronto Blue Jays’ single-A affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts,want to add 100 residential units just beyond the outfield wall as part of a stadium renovation: By 2016, people might be living at Lansing’s minor league ballpark. As many as 100 new apartments could be built in the outfield of Cooley Law School Stadium as part of a…
Mar 13, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT
Whatever chance Jason Giambi had of making the Indians’ active roster out of spring training is gone now, as the veteran designated hitter suffered a broken rib from being hit by a pitch Friday. Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Giambi is expected to be sidelined for 3-4 weeks and he was…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Ken Rosenthal has an exclusive interview with Manny Ramirez. As we saw last week, Manny wants back in baseball. That may be a pipe dream, but it’s not anything new. What is new is Manny speaking openly about his two PED suspensions: He received a 50-game suspension in ’09 and was on the verge of…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT
Doug Fister isn’t out of the woods yet with his inflamed elbow, as the Nationals right-hander felt soreness after playing catch this morning for the third straight day. James Wagner of the Washington Post reports that Fister is still tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday and the Nationals are hoping that it’s just…
Mar 13, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
As a nice companion piece to my thing about reporting what one sees in the clubhouse, here’s our friend Eno Sarris writing over at the Hardball Times about being an inexperienced reporter in the clubhouse. Eno’s particular challenge, apart from simply being a new BBWAA member and still learning the ropes of how one operates…
Mar 13, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Toronto missed out on Ervin Santana after apparently thinking he was all but signed, with general manager Alex Anthopoulos saying the free agent right-hander joined the Braves instead because he didn’t want to pitch in the American League. Now that the dust has settled on that situation Blue Jays manager John Gibbons indicated during a…
Mar 13, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
Keith Olbermann, you may or may not know, has some strong opinions from time to time. His opinion on Barry Bonds showing up to Giants camp as a guest hitting instructor has inspired one. Check out his rant below. Olbermann obviously feels strongly about Bonds, as is his right. But I feel like he vastly…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Shoulder surgery ended Jeff Keppinger‘s 2013 season in July and now it looks like it will also cause the White Sox infielder to begin this season on the disabled list. Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com reports that Keppinger “has been restricted by tightness in his surgically repaired shoulder” throughout spring training and will spend Opening Day…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
Don’t expect Scott Boras to admit this — or for him to allow Stephen Drew to publicly do so — but Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe has the inside scoop: Red Sox players say Stephen Drew now regrets not taking the qualifying offer when he had the chance. But the veteran players have turned…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Josh Beckett is trying to make a comeback from thoracic outlet syndrome, the surgery for which ended his 2013 season in July, but now the Dodgers right-hander is dealing with a sprained thumb. Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times described Beckett as frustratedly shaking his head while saying “this is what I’m dealing with”…
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- Jimmy Rollins on Ryne Sandberg: “Everyone is allowed to have their opinion. That doesn’t make it right.” 74
- Smart money on Hanley Ramirez, Jay Bruce in prop bets 26
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