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.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
After consistent battles with his control, Donnie Veal ran out of chances with the White Sox.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Jason Bartlett will call it quits after playing shortstop in the big leagues over ten seasons.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:19 PM EDT
One of the most unlikely pitchers to throw a no-hitter is working on a no-hitter.
Apr 18, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
The Brewers got their first round pick from the 2006 draft back.
Apr 18, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks will get some power back in their lineup as Cody Ross returns.
Apr 18, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Ryan Roberts wasn’t hitting; Brock Holt was, so the Red Sox decided to make a change with Will Middlebrooks still recovering from an injury.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT
The Pirates and Mets each address their problems with an Ike Davis trade.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Hanley Ramirez only spent one day out of the lineup after being hit in the hand with a fastball.
Apr 18, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Manny Machado could soon take the next step towards returning to third base for the Orioles.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:48 PM EDT
Left-hander Sean Doolittle and the A’s have agreed to a long-term contract that runs through at least 2018, with team options for 2019 and 2020.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Don’t look at me that way. It’s late afternoon on a Friday that a lot of people have off work. There’s a Reds-Cubs game one. Motivation is kinda hard to come by. Besides, this is kinda mesmerizing.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT
This morning I wrote about how the Rangers had to be considering removing Tanner Scheppers from the rotation given his awful performance through four starts and now they’ve placed him on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Dat Dude back pain.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT
Out since February with a strained tendon in his middle finger, Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw a simulated game today without any problems and has been cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment.
Apr 18, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT
Apr 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Bo Porter does not mince words when a TOOTBLAN happens.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Aroldis Chapman’s recovery from facial fractures has progressed to the point that the Reds left-hander has been cleared to throw live batting practice, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
In which I speculate why Garcia is heading across the ocean. The answer may surprise you! Unless you’ve ever had babies at home before, in which case you’ll go “yep, I woulda too.”
Apr 18, 2014, 12:23 PM EDT
When you’re as tall as he is, it’s far less than 60’6″ to home plate.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata left Wednesday’s game after crashing very hard into the wall in Cincinnati while making a tremendous catch and was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms.
- Jason Bartlett will retire after 10 years in the big leagues 1
- Update: Luis Avilan loses Aaron Harang’s no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning 4
- Pirates acquire Ike Davis in a trade with the Mets 36
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 49
- VIDEO: The Yankees turned a triple play against the Rays 24
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (244)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (167)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (125)
- There is still a racial divide in baseball (112)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (96)