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.
Aug 1, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
The Dodgers aren’t paying much of Bronson Arroyo’s tab at all.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Struggling lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty was designated for assignment by the Athletics on Saturday.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
Chad Billingsley will meet with a doctor in L.A. He’s dealing with more elbow problems.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT
Lucas Duda doesn’t want to run the bases.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Steven Souza, Jr. was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken hand, so he’ll hit the disabled list for a spell.
Aug 1, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Rays lefty Matt Moore will try to fix himself in a low-pressure environment, as the Rays will demote him following Saturday’s poor start against the Red Sox.
Aug 1, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
Kyle Schwarber is staying in the big leagues when Miguel Montero returns, which is bad news for opposing pitchers.
Aug 1, 2015, 7:19 PM EDT
There’s a shakeup in the Red Sox front office, as Larry Lucchino is stepping down from his role as president and CEO.
Clayton Kershaw blanks the Angels over eight innings, runs consecutive scoreless innings streak to 37
Aug 1, 2015, 6:56 PM EDT
Clayton Kershaw is good at baseball, the lefty confirmed on Saturday.
Aug 1, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Matt Harrison has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The diagnosis, he hopes, allows him to deal with his various issues, including his back problems.
Aug 1, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT
The second-place Mets have been without Wright since mid-April.
Aug 1, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
Saturday’s game marks the first time in MLB history that two reigning MVPs have squared off against each other.
Aug 1, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Davis hadn’t allowed a home run since August 24, 2013.
Aug 1, 2015, 3:26 PM EDT
Rogers made 18 appearances with the Yankees earlier this season, but now he’s headed to the Korea Baseball Organization.
Aug 1, 2015, 2:41 PM EDT
The speedy outfielder has made a good first impression in his Blue Jays debut.
Aug 1, 2015, 2:25 PM EDT
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was ejected from Friday’s game against the Mets in the top of the 11th inning after arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Jerry Meals.
Aug 1, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Wilson has a 3.89 ERA and 110/46 K/BB ratio in 132 innings over 21 starts this season, but the Angels will likely have to make due without him the rest of the way.
Aug 1, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT
Wheeler, who was part of Wednesday’s failed Carlos Gomez deal, reached out to Mets GM Sandy Alderson to express his desire to stay with the team.
Aug 1, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Kennedy pitched seven innings against the Marlins after watching the birth of his daughter.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT
Danny Valencia is batting .296/.331/.506 with seven home runs and 29 RBI over 58 games this season, but the Blue Jays cut him loose Saturday.
- Lucas Duda’s last eight hits have been home runs 7
- Report: Larry Lucchino stepping down as president and CEO of the Red Sox 22
- Clayton Kershaw blanks the Angels over eight innings, runs consecutive scoreless innings streak to 37 13
- Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout make MLB history in Saturday’s matchup 12
- Matt Williams on Bryce Harper’s ejection: “He needs to stay in the baseball game” 38
- UPDATE: C.J. Wilson needs elbow surgery and will likely miss the rest of the season 12
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 43
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game 186
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game (187)
- Blue Jays acquire David Price from the Tigers (112)
- Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies (106)
- Royals make another big move, get Ben Zobrist from A’s (95)
- Report: Rockies trade Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and prospects (90)